Pack Your Bags (and Hide Your Address) – We’re Going to Venice!


Rialto Bridge, Venice (National Geographic)

Hide your Address

Google’s policy change for place listings on March 28th confused many, frustrated most and, as always, ended in compliance. Why on earth would you hide your address on your Google Places listing? Well, if you’re a service-based business, you don’t have a choice in the matter.

The policy update requires that all businesses that provide home-based services hide their address from their Google Places listing or risk it not showing up in the results. In theory, most service-based companies have a ‘home base’ or central administrative office, but Google wants to know: should customers navigate to that location using Maps? Google’s motive is to provide a great user experience, showing only business addresses you may need to get to.

What about ranking factors? Removing your address from your listing means your customers looking for a plumber or electrician closest to their home can no longer make their decision based on location.

Which quickly leads me to “Venice”…

City-less Search, Code Name: “Venice”

Have Google’s Panda updates got you down? Feel like lying on a beach in Venice for a few days? Maybe Google is too. They’ve code-named their latest Local update “Venice”, and it’s a big one. Before getting into the positives, the most important thing to note is this update greatly reduces the impact of hiding your address on your Places listing.

Google has switched to “nearly 100% Blended local results” which rely on web rankings. What does this mean? Purely localized, organic search results for broad queries such as “dentist”. Google is able to do this thanks to the Location feature in Google search which captures the user’s location based on IP address (or manual change), and they want to capitalize on this feature because it is estimated that 75% of searches for local needs do not include “San Francisco” or “Atlanta”—they’re in fact city-less. Users have come to expect Google to output local businesses whether they indicate their location or not – and Google wants to deliver. In turn, Google is starting to place more weight on organic rankings than map rankings for localized search queries (ie: “dentist”, “attorney”, “grocery store”, “car wash”, “babysitter”, etc.). Locations with hidden addresses continue to show up in the main SERPs and in the ever-present blended results because these blended rankings are now controlled by organic factors, rather than Places factors.

Tax Day is around the corner, so I used the city-less query “accountant” as an example:

Normal National Results:

Set Location to San Francisco:


Set Location to Portland:


“Venice” Takeaways

The results underneath the map listings used to be traditional, national results for sites that ranked highly for that general query, answering “what is an accountant?” and “how do you become an accountant?” Now, sites that have optimized for “city term” keywords are able to show up off of a general query, whereas before they may have only appeared for queries such as “accountant Portland OR”.

Local business perks? You are now able to appear in global results if you have taken the time to optimize your website (time that is well worth your investment). Mixed results don’t eliminate your competition with national franchises; they do however increase the likelihood that as a local business your website will appear in the results, catching a user’s eye with their city name in your description.
On the other hand, if you are a national franchise, queries for your major keywords will now bring pure local results into play, if the user has their location set in Google. This is something to be aware of, especially in major cities where map listings take up most of the first page, leaving just a small amount of space to compete for.

So … what about hiding your address? As stated earlier, if you service customers at their home, or a location other than your headquarters, according to Google’s new policy you must hide your address from appearing on your Places page. While previously Google would have penalized you for hiding your address from users, “Venice” levels the playing field in this regard. With the “Venice” update, there is no longer a risk that your Places listing’s rankings or even your website’s traditional, organic rankings will be negatively affected as it would have in the past. Ultimately, Google recognizes the fact they can’t penalize you for abiding by their policy. So if you have always hid your address before for privacy purposes – you’re in luck.

Keep in mind, however, that even if you’ve hidden your address, the city and zip code will appear and your location marker can still show up in Google Maps. The location will show up as a round marker rather than the usual teardrop, but it is still unknown whether it will appear above your true location (though hidden), or a generic location in the town or city you select.

How to Capitalize on “Venice”

What does “Venice” mean to your Local SEO efforts? Focusing on Google Places alone is no longer the best course of action for local businesses. While creating and optimizing your Google Places listing is the best way to show up in the listing results, it is not the only way to enable your listing to rank well. Now, Google will be placing a lot more weight on your website’s on-page SEO, so even if you have a well-optimized Google Places page, a neglected website could potentially harm your rankings.

On the other hand, if you optimize you website appropriately, your Places page may acquire a position within the blended results—truly saturating these traditional, localized search results with your local business.

A final thing to note with “Venice” is that if you don’t currently have a website and rely solely on your Google Places listing to keep yourself in front of potential customers, you may do well to finally take the plunge and provide your customers with a very user-friendly and well-optimized website that proves helpful to your customers. Since users want to know you’re a legitimate business, Google wants to know that too. And a website that provides your customers with additional information about your company will only reinforce a positive reputation.

My Conclusion

My main concern with hiding an address in Google Places is that it actually depletes some user experience (contrary to Google’s intent). If my plumbing goes haywire and my basement is flooding as a result, I want need the closest plumber possible. Thus when I perform a search in Google and I’m unable to access the addresses of plumbers in my area, there is no way for me to make a decision short of going to each website to find their physical location. While I understand Google’s desire to show physical businesses in their maps that users actually visit, most service-based businesses reside in commercial office space, and there are customers who want to know where that is located.

On the contrary, the “Venice” update is a game-changer for local businesses, and a win for users, too. Whether you type in a geo-targeted or city-less search, you’re going to get results close by for general localized queries that indicate local intent. It doesn’t go so far as to remove all global results either, which is smart on Google’s end. Searching “accountant” and having my location set does not always mean I want to find an accountant nearby. It could mean I’m interested in what accountants do, or how to become one. Of course, we’d surmise these searches would be more exact – which is exactly what Google is doing.

In conclusion, pay attention to both of these changes, whether you’re a local business or a national franchise. They haven’t rolled out completely, but when they do, they could become the source of your traffic loss—or gain.

Couch to 5K for the Internet Marketer – Get Your Website in Shape

Spring has begun, bikini season is right around the corner and everyone wants to be in shape… now. The thing is, big changes don’t happen overnight – getting off your bum to successfully run a 5k won’t happen from Friday to Saturday and neither will changing your website ranking from 100+ to 1. That’s why I’ve created the analogous SEO guide to take your website from slouching on the couch to ranking high in the race of SERPs.

Make a Plan – Map your goals

The first step toward completing your 5k is making the conscious decision that you want to run one. You need to lay out your goals, your time frame and your workout style. In similar fashion, before you begin your search engine optimization efforts, you need to consider your KPIs (key performance indicators) and your time available for SEO. KPIs will help measure performance to see if your changes are bringing you closer to what you want to achieve. They are the internet marketing expert’s version of a stop watch.

Walk to Jog – Keywords to rank

If you’re truly jumping off the couch and aiming to run a 5K, the best way to warm up your leg muscles is to get some distance under your sneakers regardless of the pace – start with a walk. Online: warm up to your list of keywords by checking in to what you already rank for and what is already driving your traffic. How do you find these pre-existing terms?

Work out Equipment – Research tools

A major factor to success in any exercise program is keeping it diverse – challenge different muscles, entertain your mind, change it up. Try something other than running by adding a jump rope to burn more calories, strengthen your calves and ultimately become a lighter, swifter runner. For your website, try the many tools at your disposal not only for keyword research, but also to see what could be improved on your site:

Ready to Jog – Start utilizing keywords

For your next workout, your muscles are warm and used to the idea of distance, so start jogging. Alternate between brisk walks and jogging maintaining a 3:2 ratio – for example, walk 90 seconds then jog for 60. When it comes to your website, don’t run head first into covering your site with keywords – start implementing them in small ways. Begin with your title and meta tags. Rewrite them to include appropriate keywords for each page and stronger calls to action, all the while keeping your searcher in mind.

Nutritional Lifestyle – Maintain solid internal structure

Couple your workout efforts with nutritional eating habits that will let you continuously push harder. Cut down on fats, give your muscles the carbs they crave and don’t overeat. Taking care of your internal structure will help you achieve your outward goals. The same is true when it comes to search engine optimization. Ensure your website’s navigation is straightforward for users so they find what they want in no more than 3 clicks. Show search engines what pages are relevant for important topics with a healthy internal linking structure.

Time Drills – Increase crawl speed

Once you’ve started introducing jogging to your workouts, it’s time to turn it up with time drills. Mark a distance, time your run and try to continuously improve on that time. When it comes to time drills on your site, search engine robots are the ones trying to cover more distance in less time. Do them a favor by removing the backup created by inline styles, excessive java scripts and similar extraneous coding. Take these off the page and into relevant linking CSS files or JS files.

Support System – Outreach

Several weeks into your workout program, it’s not uncommon to feel bogged down or overwhelmed. Reach out to friends, join a running club or find a similar support system to help keep you going. Find parallel strength for your website by gaining an external link support system coming from relevant-topic sites. Outreach for guest blogging, connect to someone else in your industry or gain support from your distributors. Powerful, legitimate links hold immense clout in the eyes of search engines.

Rest & Repair – Dangling & Broken Links


Taking time off to rest is just as important as time spent on your feet to gain strength. Ice injuries and alternate targeted muscle groups to give others a chance to recoup. Online: correct your broken links or write 301 redirects for any deleted pages. Additionally, “nofollow” dangling links so that your pages are not wasting link power to dead end items.

Map the Race – Sitemaps

As the race gets closer, the best way to prepare is by actually running the course before race day or mapping the same distance with similar terrain to practice on. Obvious navigation through your site for users and robots is just as important. Create a sitemap.html for human searchers and a sitemap.xml for robot searchers to ensure all your pages are indexed.

Practice, practice, practice – Dynamic & social content

A major factor in running success is to keep at it – don’t stop with your workouts and don’t slack off even after the race. Keep your muscles and body active. With your website, you want to keep your users engaged and your content fresh to encourage additional crawling of your site. Build an online community through the various social media sites available and connect these venues to your site.

Just like running to get in shape or to take on a distance challenge, optimizing your site is not a one day affair. Many website owners or clients will want their SEO experts to fast-track their results, just like many people will get the running bug and want to take on a marathon this weekend. Other than the above outlined sample program, the best advice I can is to simply accept the fact that ranking in search results is not a quick task. Realizing this will make your work more worthwhile as you stick it out till you see your domain listed in that prime number one spot. It’s almost as satisfying as being the runner to break through the tape across the finish line.

Branding through the Online Community

Gone are the days when online marketing was just a one-time gig of SEO.  Now, in order to stay competitive online, marketers must expand their skillset far beyond the average professional.  They have to be personable, charming and poetic.  Marketers have to make the most of their word choice in order to be effective at connecting and relating to people in first impressions, oftentimes with the limit of 140 characters.  In addition, marketers must be in touch with the latest and greatest.  The world of SEO and that which surrounds the Internet is constantly changing.  Internet marketers must keep in touch with all the newest social platforms, as well as the latest changes in the Google algorithm.

But that’s far from all it takes.  Online marketing requires individuals to be highly analytical and technical; a skill set that usually doesn’t go hand-in-hand with those that are personable.  Marketers must be able to understand the extremely complicated functions of the internet from coding to any sort of computer work, as well as have the ability to analyze all key performance indicators of a website or campaign.  Finally, a skill I think is frequently underrated in marketing is the ability to grasp aesthetic appeal and usability.  Visual first impressions play a huge part in the acceptance of a product or website and it is the marketer’s role to make sure that first impression is a positive one.

Why does the profession of online marketing require these individuals to be so multi-talented?  It’s because each of these vital skillsets has a huge impact on whether or not a brand will perform well online.  The technical and analytical side correlates to the SEO job functions.   The personable traits are necessary for Social and Outreach functions.  But that’s no longer enough to perform well.  The term “inbound marketing” is now beginning to take precedence over SEO and covers all facets of Internet marketing with a primary focus on connecting a brand to its community through content – one that stretches far beyond the typical use of social platforms, Facebook , Twitter, and Reddit.

To understand inbound marketing a little better, here’s a previous post I wrote which explains it power to help a brand.

There’s a clear SEO benefit from creating content relevant to your brand’s followers.  If you are always producing intriguing content, people will continually come to see what else you have to offer and they’ll share it with their friends.  But it’s hard to gain exposure naturally… you have to work for it! There’s no better way to create awesome content than by interacting with your community, getting to know what they care about, learning what they’re interested in and how to get them to spread the word.

Fortunately, there are a ton of communities to be a part of; that offer amazing opportunities to boast your brand’s online reputation. Here’s my comprehensive list:

Video Communities:

Video content is becoming an increasingly essential factor for brands as its impact in search grows.  Now with Google’s blended searches, users are more likely to see video content taking up a significant portion of rankings.  As a marketer, it’s important to remember that the content isn’t all about the brand.  It’s about video that the community wants to see and share.  Focus on the content first and then allow a small spot for your own branding.  Your rewards will be significantly greater.   The biggest communities to be a part of are Vimeo, YouTube, Daily Motion, and MetaCafe, all of which allow you to upload your own content.

Image Communities:

Trends come and go, but it appears that image sharing is here to stay.  Some of the Internet’s biggest social sharing platforms revolve around image content which more and more websites are focusing on.  This proves aesthetic appeal is a big player in the viral nature of content and by publishing a few high quality photos of your products your brand can skyrocket from anonymity to a household name.

Here are a few communities that have active members across the nation sharing, “repinning,” and building links to your brand.

Flickr

We’ve all heard of this.  Share your images through a free online portfolio.

Instagram

Starbucks has done really well in branding their company through Instagram.  By creating their own hashtag #Starbucks, they have developed a community of individuals who all share their own images and experiences with the international coffee retailers.

Pinterest

For an idea of who has utilized this platform well, follow the Travel Channel’s pinboard.  Their images of foreign locations have captured the attention of nearly all pinners! And with an average 11 million users per week since their introduction in 2008, you can be sure your brand needs to be bookmarked here.

Manteresting

The masculine version of Pinterest.

Oink

This is a new platform, but I have high hopes for it.  Brands that adopt Oink early could really benefit when it takes off.  Create a company account, and develop “street cred” as an expert on a given topic and share images and content about your company’s products.  You could also allow your employees access to the account and let them share their own experiences.  This will help your company gain more natural rapport between other users and a positive community surrounding it.

Music Communities:

While music communities don’t provide that link value that is highly regarded in traditional SEO, there are still ways to benefit from brand exposure.  Create playlists for your company and share them through your site, and all your social outlets.  You could cultivate a community willing to include a hashtag of your company every time they share music from the playlist.  For instance, SEO’s could share a playlist of the music they listen to every time they build links.  A great place to start is through these communities:

Turntable FM

Spotify

Create playlists for your brand.  Connect more with your community.  Trevin has created a great post on how to brand through Spotify.

Hopefully with this list, you will be inspired to connect with an audience and community that will help build your brand from a nobody to a world class brand!  Now go and reach out!

Google’s Search plus Your World: 3 Changes Internet Marketers Will Care About

On January 10th, Google made a ground-breaking announcement that Google search will now be integrated with your social signals.  The name for this update is Google Search plus Your World which is only activated when the searcher is logged into their Google+ account and searching on Google’s secure search.  Google Search plus Your World marks a major shift toward increased social marketing and makes the use of Google+ necessary.  With Google’s new social search feature, there are 3 main changes that you will notice on your results page.

Personal Results

The first is that your personal interactions will now show up in the results for related terms.  For example, when I type in the term “technology” I see results from some of my co-workers.

Google search

Search plus Your World denotes searches that are specific to you with the blue person icon.  These results are ones that have been shared with you on Google+ or are public results.  Images will also appear in these results if related to the search term.  If you are not looking for results specific to you, click on the “See all results” link to be redirected to information not limited to just your personal search results.

Profiles in Search

The second change that you will notice is that personal profiles will appear in the results and autocomplete when you type in a name of a person in your circles on Google+.

Google search

When you select a predicted profile you will be shown results from that person’s Google+ profile and relevant results from the web.  However, because that person has a Google+ page, their Google+ results will outrank all other information related to them on the Internet.

People and Pages

The last major change that you will notice is the results for people and pages in the top-right of the browser for your search term.  For instance, if you type in “movies,” you will see a few Google+ profiles highlighted since they are related to “movies”.

Google search

This feature also allows you to quickly add these people to your circles.  As a result, this section will become vital for individuals and businesses to generate new traffic to their social profiles through Google.  With the People and Pages on Google+ results showing so prominently in the results, who wouldn’t want to be there?

How to De-activate Search plus Your World

Fortunately, if you do not like the changes that Google has made to the search feature when logged-in, you can opt-out of seeing personal results.  The first way to do this is with the convenient toggle that Google added to the top-right of your browser.

Google toggleWhen Search plus Your World is activated, the person icon will be darkened.  To view organic results without personalization, just click on the globe icon.

A second way to opt-out is to update your search settings.  You can do this by clicking the gear at the top-right of your browser and choosing “Search Settings” then under “Personal results” choose “Do not use personal results” and save your new settings.

Google settings

This will de-activate the personal results and profiles in search features, but the People and Pages on Google+ section is an addition to the results that will remain regardless of your settings or being logged into Google+.

What this Means for the Internet Marketer

With these changes being so significant, many of you Internet Marketers may wonder how they will affect you.  At this point, the extent to which Google’s Search plus Your World will affect Internet Marketing is still unknown, but one thing is certain; that it is time to focus on Google+ as a serious social engine.  So take all the posts you are sharing on Twitter and Facebook share them on Google+ too!

I mentioned earlier that the People and Pages on Google+ will be very important for individuals and businesses today.  This section now takes up a prominent place on the results page and appears above pay per click results, so it will most likely take some traffic away from organic and paid search results.  For example, look at the results for the term “seo.”

People and Pages

You will definitely want your page to show up on the People and Pages on Google+ section and Google provided some tips on how to accomplish this with the “Learn how you could appear here too” link.

In order to appear in this section, the first and most obvious step to take is to create a Google+ page.  Many people and businesses held out on creating Google+ pages because they figured their social media initiatives should be focused on Facebook and Twitter.  But they are now realizing how important Google+ pages are with Search plus Your World.

After creating a page, Google recommends adding a photo and filling your profile out completely.  Ensure that your Google+ page includes all the information for which you want to be ranked for.

Next, Google suggests sharing information on topics that are important to you.  The more content you provide related to the terms you want to rank for, the better you will rank for those terms.  Also, the content you shared will then be delivered to people who have added you to their circles when they search for similar queries.

Most importantly, make sure that you are getting added to circles!  All of your information will mean nothing if you don’t have people who are interested in it.  The more circles that you are in, the more likely it is that you will show up in the results for People and Places on Google+.  This is great for the early adopters of Google+, however many influential and relevant people did not embrace Google+ and will not appear in this section.   But not to worry, if you follow these steps to create a well optimized Google+ page you will be on your way to reaching out to the over 60 million users and growing on Google+.

Components of High-Quality Blog Posts

Components of High-Quality Blog Posts

Today, almost everyone wants to share his or her thoughts on the web. And with so many easy ways of blogging brought to us by services like Posterous and Tumblr, why not do it, right?

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t go around ranting uncontrollably about random stuff on the web. If we really want to share something interesting with the community of our choice, we should, at the minimum, project professionalism and trustworthiness and emphasize accuracy and quality of the writings we put on the internet.

Whether you’re maintaining a personal blog, starting up a design blog, or managing and updating your company’s official blog, the fundamental tips and strategies discussed in this article will ensure that all of your posts will be professional, high-quality, and awesome to read.

Why Should We Care About the Quality of Blog Posts?

It’s all about empathy. But then again, everything in this world should come down to that.

Design blogs, in particular, are an interminable source of information. This information, however, needs to be reliable and useful for it to really contribute value to the design community.

If we want to get reliable information, we should also worry about providing reliable information.

Considerations for Writing Solid Blog Posts

We can take many considerations into account when we are writing a blog post to share with the online community. The following tips cover essential things to keep in mind for every blog post your write.

Developing Your Idea and Post Title

Generating an idea for your blog post is the way we normally initiate the writing process. First and foremost, your ideas should be original — although we all know this is tougher than it sounds because there is already so much content out there.

When picking a topic to write about, make sure that you have the necessary knowledge and experience to competently write about the topic. This ensures your writing is authentic.

You should also start thinking about a solid title for your idea that encompasses what you will be discussing.

Often, in blog writing, it can even be better to develop the post’s title before writing the post itself. Why is that? There are several reasons why writing a title first is a good idea:

  • It gives you a starting point
  • It gives you a concise idea to work with
  • It gives you ideas for researching keywords
  • It ensures you keep your writing focused because you can regularly check back to it as you write

The post’s title should be inviting. In the mind of the readers, your title should translate to “You need to read me right now!”

Some examples of popular design-related topics include:

Frank Chimero, a celebrated graphic designer/blogger/teacher, has a very interesting way of explaining the way one can develop an idea — you should definitely check his illustration out.

Creating a Powerful Introduction

In order to engage readers from the start, you have to begin with an attractive abstract that succinctly encapsulates the subject of the blog post. This introduction should be short and concise — try keeping it within 3-5 sentences. After reading your introductory paragraph, readers should immediately know what they will be in for.

Think of your introduction as a sales pitch. Let the potential reader know why he or she should read the rest of the post by stimulating their curiosity and outlining the value they will obtain should they read the post.

This introduction can also be useful for developing things such as post excerpts, metadata, descriptions for submitting to social news portals and so forth.

Using Research and Secondary Sources

A blog post should always have sound and accurate information. It’s best to support ideas and arguments with secondary resources, quotes, and research studies. Linking to relevant sources reinforces the things you say in your own blog posts and gives the reader greater context about the items you’re discussing.

Providing Interesting Personal Insights

If you chose the topic yourself, it stands to reason that it is because you have something new and interesting to say about it. Providing your own insights is what differentiates a blog post from a news article or a boring, old academic paper.

Don’t be afraid to let your own voice shine through. Don’t hesitate on using your own style of writing.

Personal insights invite discussion and promote conversations. Your insights also make posts more compelling and can engage people further into the reading experience.

Structuring Your Blog Posts for Readability

An easy-to-read blog post helps people scan through it so that they can decide whether it’s interesting to them or not.

Think about a post that has paragraphs spanning 30-40 lines. The visual appearance of a huge wall of text will be so overwhelming and intimidating that readers will be discouraged to read the post in its entirety.

Structuring Your Article for Readability

Consider the following tips:

  • Keep paragraphs short
  • Have one idea per paragraph
  • Use bulleted lists
  • Use headings to break up your post into logical sections
  • Use bold and emphasis to highlight key terms and concepts
  • Keep your writing clear, avoid ambiguous language

Using Images

Good visual aids go a long way when trying to get your ideas across to readers. If you’re talking about statistics, why not use charts and graphs instead of data tables with a lot of intimidating numbers?

Using Images

Use diagrams or sketches to show workflows and hierarchies. Use representative photos to illustrate or reinforce ideas.

Design bloggers have it easy on the subject of images. As designers, we can quickly create our own custom visuals to complement our blog posts.

Using Quotes

Quotes from notable individuals can reinforce your arguments and can be a valuable supporting element to your blog posts.

Let’s face it: every popular topic out there has probably been covered. We can use appropriate quotes to support our ideas.

As a best practice, lengthy quoted material should have a special format. In HTML, there is the <blockquote> element that is specifically for citing long blocks of text from another source.

Quoted content should quote the author verbatim as well as attribute the source properly.

Here is an example of <blockquote> formatting (quote from Maria Malidaki):

Technology, and especially information technology, evolves rapidly. People have come to terms with the constant, big and fast changes that fall upon the hardware and software we use.

Citing Related Resources

It is important to give the reader other sources of information so that they may continue their research on the topic covered by your blog post. This will also reflect your commitment to providing complete and useful content to your readers.

These related resources can include references you’ve used, books that cover the topic well, other relevant posts within your blog, and blog posts from other sites.

Quality Control

After you write a post, you shouldn’t just publish it immediately. You should appropriate some time for proofreading, editing and making sure you have the topic cinched to the best of your abilities.

All the efforts you have applied to writing your blog post might be lost on the reader if it is poorly written and peppered with spelling mistakes.

Further Reading

Here are some great resources for you to check out:

Conclusion

If many of the things I’ve talked about in this article are new to you, then it may sound like there’s a lot more to blogging than you had originally anticipated. But maintaining a great blog that ensures your blogging efforts will have good results will intrinsically involve a bit more work than run-of-the-mill blogging.

Anything of value takes time to create.

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