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Google Highlights 40 Changes for February 2012

March 30, 2012NoaDavidGoogle0

Google released a blog post highlighting 40 changes in Search for February. Many of them are so small they’re not worth your time covering, so we’ve pulled out the best of the best and listed them below. Remember that Google makes this many or more changes on a monthly basis so this isn’t a new development.

  • International launch of shopping rich snippets. Shopping rich snippets help you more quickly identify which sites are likely to have the most relevant product for your needs, highlighting product prices, availability, ratings and review counts. This month we expanded shopping rich snippets globally (they were previously only available in the US, Japan and Germany).

This means…sites outside the US will now also be able to see reviews and price range snippets in search results [Example]

  • Improvements to ranking for local search results. This improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.

This means…you’ll likely see more universal organic results above 7 packs for some queries. Yeah, we know that sounds pretty vague. The example, we’re seeing results on is a search for Pizza ranking Domino’s and Papa John’s above the local 7 pack now. However, the rub lies in the fact that those results are not relevant as we don’t have those restaurants in the area where the search was done. This may be a boost to national brands that don’t have a local presence in some cities.

  • Fresher images. We’ve adjusted our signals for surfacing fresh images. Now we can more often surface fresh images when they appear on the Web.

This means…Google is ranking recently published images quicker. You’ll see these images show up in image search with text that says 1 day ago or in some cases hours ago. Good example is a search in Google Images for Branson Tornado with most results today (2/29) showing within 2-5 hours. This may be also tied to trending topics as well.

  • Expand the size of our images index in Universal Search. We launched a change to expand the corpus of results for which we show images in Universal Search. This is especially helpful to give more relevant images on a larger set of searches.

This means…SEO for images hosted on your site is going to be even more important as Google is going to start showing them more often in regular organic search.

  • Improved detection for SafeSearch in Image Search. This change improves our signals for detecting adult content in Image Search, aligning the signals more closely with the signals we use for our other search results.

This means…that you need to test your search results with Safe Search both turned on and off to make sure your images are not getting falsely caught in the safety dragnet. This may affect medial and other images that might be falsely interpretted as adult content.

Less duplication in expanded sitelinks. We’ve adjusted signals to reduce duplication in the snippets for expanded sitelinks. Now we generate relevant snippets based more on the page content and less on the query.

This means…You should see less strange non-relevant expanded sitelinks, at least that’s what we’re hoping for. We’re seeing a component that seems to want to rank new content more often in sitelinks, and a preference on the highest traffic sections of the sites. For example, if you have one part of your site with more traffic than others, it’s highly likely Google will show it at the top of the new sitelinks.

  • More locally relevant predictions in YouTube. We’ve improved the ranking for predictions in YouTube to provide more locally relevant queries. For example, for the query [lady gaga in] performed on the US version of YouTube, we might predict [lady gaga in times square], but for the same search performed on the Indian version of YouTube, we might predict [lady gaga in India].

This means…more accurate drop down search recommendations in YouTube, and that they are paying attention to the location of the searcher. Look for YouTube to continue to enhance their search suggestions with fresher content based on trending data and localization like they do in their main search suggest.

Google’s Search Plus Your World (SPYW)

March 29, 2012NoaDavidGoogle0

Google Plus Your World has been live since the beginning of 2012 and the take on it is mixed at best.

Many people just don’t care if their friend or mom just bought a certain type of phone or +1′d a link about something. There is also the added negative pressure that many experts are very against personalized results.

Here’s yet another fantastic TED talk on what personalizing search results and popular news sites is doing to us as a society. The video is about 10 minutes long and is worth the time to watch…

Has Google gone too far and lost touch with the 99%? Have they taken a step too far to potentially monetize your social/search information? These are questions we’ll have to continue to ask about Google’s future.

From a marketing and AdWords perspective, Google’s Search Plus Your World is a theoretical gold mine that will allow Google to target ads that use all their information about you. One advantage they have over Facebook is that they’ll have all the same information, but they’ll also be able to utilize all your search data as well. This is especially true since Google+ is already so heavily integrated into all of Google’s products.

Some examples of the power potentially available to Google would be using your +1′s as an advertising tool for companies. For example if you +1′d an article or a product like a an iPod Touch and then your friend searches for mp3 players, your +1 might show up in their results saying you liked the iPod Touch. Then Apple could put ad space right in that result giving your friend 10% off an iPod for clicking that ad. At the very least, there could be a link to their site about the product.

More examples include sponsored “Google+ recommendations” in the results or enhanced sitelinks ads that include hangouts to put you directly in touch with a sales person or a video about the product. Needless to say, if Google is bold enough, the possibilities are nearly limitless.

Google Offers Giving Groupon Some Real Competition

March 28, 2012NoaDavidGoogle0

Although Google Offers is just over a year old, it continues to grow at a rapid pace and is now available in 40 cities across the U.S.

They’ve also expanded their partnerships to include 3 more specialized social buying programs.

If you are still new to online coupon programs then now is the time to get on-board to leverage this powerful marketing tool for your business. They are no longer about just pushing walk in customers to local businesses. Both Google Offers and Groupon have expanded their offerings to include products and online only businesses as well.

With this in mind, take the time this month to check out Google Offers and get signed up here. Then stay tuned for next month’s April 2012 edition of SearchEngineNews.com when we’ll release an expert’s guide to leveraging a Groupon promotion.

Face it – online coupon programs are here to stay. Don’t be the last to catch on to this fact.

PO Box’s Completely Removed From Place Pages Accounts

March 27, 2012NoaDavidGoogle0

It’s well known that Google frowns upon businesses using PO Boxes as their physical address within their Place Page. This tactic is called moving the pin and regardless of Google’s stance, it’s common practice because it gets you closer to the city center which in turn gives you better placement within local search results for your city.

Before this latest change, Google allowed you to enter your physical address in one address line and your PO Box address in another. However, Google has changed things so that you can’t use a PO Box within your address at all.

This seems like a clear stand against PO Boxes and even a logical move…until you consider that many businesses need to verify their Place Page listing through the mail and actually rely on a PO Box to receive mail. If you fall into this category, you can still request address approval through the Troubleshooting pages for Place Pages.

Understanding How Google Calculates Their ‘Top Search Queries’ Data

March 26, 2012NoaDavidGoogle0

Google is updating the way their Top Search Queries data is calculated in Webmaster Tools. Previously it was an average of all the spots you would rank for. For example, if you have a site about tents and a person does a search for tents where your site appears in position 3, 6, and 12. Then another user searches for tents and your site shows up for them in position 5 and 9, Google would average those to give you an Average Position of 7.

The change is that Google will take the top ranked position from each query your site showed up for and average those to get your site’s rank in those queries. With the new update, Google would only take the highest ranking from each of those queries. So the 3 from the first query and the 5 from the second query would average at 4. Google thinks this will match your expectations about how the site position ranking should be reported.

All of your site’s historical data from before this update (which came into play on January 25th) will not be affected by this update, only new information.

Google Reminds Sites About Robot.txt Maximum File Size

March 25, 2012NoaDavidGoogle0

Recently Google’s John Mueller made a point to remind people to keep their robots.txt file under 500kb. According to John, Googlebot will only read up to 500kb of your robots.txt file. If it’s longer it can confuse the Googlebot, which could lead to some serious problems for you and your rank in the results.

His suggestion is of course to just make your file smaller which could involve going over it with a fine tooth comb. However, if you can’t make it below the limit, you can still make multiple smaller files instead.

A 500kb limit to the robots.txt file should rarely affect most webmasters, and if you do have one that big, we highly recommend reviewing what you have in there and removing what is unnecessary. For example, it’s not likely worthwhile to try to block spam bots, they seldom heed robots.txt.

Third Party Rich Snippet Showing Up in Results

March 24, 2012NoaDavidGoogle0

Recently people started noticing what appear to be event rich snippets showing up in the search results. The reason this is news is because these rich snippets are showing information coming from 3rd party sites.

The most common example would be searching for a well known band like Coldplay and having links to Ticket Master or another ticket selling site right under the results. However, which site displayed and which queries showed these results is incredibly inconsistent. Simply changing your query to Coldplay band or Coldplay tour can change what shows up.

It seems like Google is testing these rich snippets right now, and either they’ve stopped, or it’s only available in certain areas because we were unable to replicate the results.

Mobile Stats That You Can Take to The Bank

March 23, 2012NoaDavidGoogle0

Mobile Web usage is growing so fast that it’s almost to the point of incredible. According to research done by Google and Ipsos, the shift to smartphones has increased significantly on a global level. Here are some stats to use on your clients to shift their focus on being found within local search.

The study showed that the smartphone penetration has reached 45% in the UK, 38% in the US and France, 23% in Germany, and 17% in Japan. The largest increase was in the UK at 15% over last year, while the US saw a 7% increase. Two thirds of smartphone users in the US and UK and 88% in Japan access the mobile Internet daily on their smartphones.

Overall about 75% of smartphone users continue to use their computer for the Internet on a daily basis, and tablet usage among smartphone users has increased as well. This means that people are consistently using two to three devices to access the Internet on a regular basis.

Google and Ipsos also did some research over the 2011 holiday shopping season to show that smartphones are an essential device used in almost all stages of purchasing an item either online or in the store.

Of smartphone users that use their phone while shopping, 46% researched products with their phone, and then bought them in the store, 37% bought them online on their computer, and 41% purchased an item straight from their phone. This clearly means that even if you have a site or if a customer can just walk into the store and see the item, almost half of smartphone users will use their phone to do research.

Tablets have been getting their share of attention during the holiday season as well and managed to beat out smartphones in product research in almost all categories, and in some cases managed to beat out computers as well in categories like reading reviews and comparing product info.

Of course Google has known this for a long time, and that’s why they’ve launched their GoMo campaign to help people create mobile content for their sites. This also means they have no problem pointing out a few success stories to help motivate you.

First they’ve shown the success of Hair Club that utilized mobile content correctly, and then used Google’s Mobile add program to take advantage of that content. The end result is a 30 to 1 return on their Google Mobile ads investment, a 100% increase in mobile search ad clicks over the last year, and an 11% higher conversion rate from mobile ads over computer ads.

Next Google has shown us the success of 1-800-flowers.com which simply revamped their mobile site to be more phone friendly by removing some seldom used features, and removing the required steps needed to make a purchase. Their end result showed a 25% increase in average time spent on the site, 53% reduction of cart abandonment, increase in the average order value on mobile, and a better conversion rate.

Check out the studies done for these two sites to see what they did, the tips you can learn might just help you excel in the mobile world!

With these stats floating around in your brain it should become alarmingly clear that you need to be optimizing your site for mobile content, or creating new mobile content if you haven’t already. At their current rate of growth, smartphone users will make up half of the population of many countries in a few years, and probably next year in the UK.

Facebook Going Public

March 22, 2012NoaDavidGoogle0

Facebook is set to go public sometime in May, as a publicly traded company that is. Currently the company is raising its IPO or Initial Public Offering of $5 billion dollars with the help of several big named banks. The IPO is essentially a piece of the company that Facebook is willing to put out and sell to investors for a large chunk of money to use on growing its business, or maybe just making its current investors even richer than they already are.

The IPO is usually based on the value of the company along with other factors decided by the company and the banks involved. While no one can really say how much Facebook is actually worth, many estimates range from 80 to 100 billion dollars. This would mean that the $5 billion IPO is actually a pretty small number, and many thought it would be closer to $10 billion. However Facebook is playing it safe and being conservative, which will only help.

If you’re looking forward to buying Facebook shares be prepared to wait a long time. The banks that supply the money for that IPO give their clients the first access to the shares, and usually those first few in the 1% take up 90% of those shares (take a number 99%).

Google Dumbs Down Their Privacy Policy

March 20, 2012NoaDavidGoogle0

Google has decided to consolidate and dumb down its privacy policy. They’ve made it incredibly easy to read by removing all the legal terms or confusing language and creating one universal policy instead of separate ones for each service or product.

In order to help you understand their new policies, Google has set up a Web site that breaks it all down for you. It’s definitely an interesting read if you’re unsure about how Google handles your information.

The Google Terms of Service provided on the site attempted to be just as easy to read and cover a more diverse set of topics about what rules you should follow using Google’s products and what rights you and Google have to use each other’s content.

To give you an idea of how much Google’s terms and service agreement is changing all we have to tell is that it’s now only 3 pages long. This makes Google seem a little less questionable, and gives you the impression they are being more transparent.

Google’s new policies and principles go into effect automatically on March 1, 2012. If you continue to use Google and its services you automatically agree to the terms. Upon reading it over we found nothing that was out of line from what it’s always been. Maybe they’ve decided on this move to make it all easier (and perhaps cheaper) to argue over in court…

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