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How Google Responds to Millions of Fake Businesses


Friday July 5, 2019

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Last month, the Wall Street Journal launched an investigation into Google Maps. Their report claims that millions of business listings are completely fake – and that the search engine giant profits from this deception through ad revenue.

In the digital age, Google is the first stop for just about everyone looking for home repairs or locksmithing services, especially if they’re emergent in nature. When a pipe has burst or a key is locked in the house, time is of the essence; homeowners don’t have time to wait for someone to drive across town. For this reason, they’ll probably select the closest repairman in the area. This is the point where fake listings can defraud consumers.

 

Why Create a Fake Google Listing?

Why would someone bother to create a fraudulent Google Maps listing? There are a few different explanations for these scams. Some businesses will attempt to sabotage competitors by creating poser profiles with the wrong NAP information (name, address, phone). They’ll then intercept customers trying to use the other company’s services or sell these leads to other organizations.

Other times, the motives are even more nefarious. The WSJ tells of one woman who attempted to hire a local repair service she had used before, only to have a scammer turn up in an unmarked van, shoddily repair her garage door, and demand twice the money for the work. “I’m in my house by myself with this guy,” she said. “He could have knocked me over dead.”

 

Google’s Response

Google has responded to the WSJ report by removing more than 3 million fake listings. They’ve also added new safeguards for “high-risk” businesses – these include repair services and contractors, which customers in emergency situations don’t have the time to research. This isn’t the first time Google has had to cull fake business profiles. Last year, the search engine disabled over 150,000 accounts used to create millions of fake listings. According to Google, over 85% of these removals were flagged by its internal systems, while the remainder were reported by users.

In their blog post response, Google states that “these scammers use a wide range of deceptive techniques to try to game our system – as we shut them down, they change their techniques, and the cycle continues. Although it’s important that we make it easy for legitimate businesses to get their business profiles on Google, we’ve also implemented strict policies and created tools that enable people to flag these issues so we can take action… We can’t share too many details about these efforts without running the risk of actually helping scammers find new ways to beat our systems.”

 

How You Can Combat Fake Business Listings

Google offers a few different options for those looking to contribute to the fight against fraud. First, learn more about their policies for businesses representing themselves on Google – as well as their information on user-contributed content – to determine whether or not to report businesses for review. Next, you can use the new flagging system to notify the search engine of any suspicious content you see. If you notice multiple fraudulent business profiles or if you are personally affected by such a scam, submit the business redressal form to begin the review process.

Moving forward, be sure to check in on your business’s Google presence regularly. Make sure that there are no poser profiles attempting to redirect your customers and report them if you see them. Make sure that your company information – especially contact info – is current on all platforms, social media included. With awareness and dedication, scammers shouldn’t be a problem for your clients.

 

Webconsuls is an SEO and digital marketing company with offices in Nashville, TN and Los Angeles, CA.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

After its second data breach, Google+ is shutting down for good. The recent leak prompted Google execs to fast track the failed social network’s sunsetting.

The breach impacted 52.5 million users and made non-public data available to developers. While Google claims that no third party accessed this and no app devs misused it (or were even aware of the leak), this spelled the end for G+. The company accelerated the shutdown from August 2019 to April 2019.

Why did Google+ fail?

There’s no shortage of outside opinion articles detailing G+’s issues, but a recent tweetstorm contains insider information. A former Google designer, Morgan Knutson, posted more than 200 tweets about the internal trials faced by the struggling social media platform.

Knutson points to several issues in Google’s system. Teams across the company didn’t coordinate on the service’s creation, resulting in miscommunication and mismatched features. The platform didn’t integrate smoothly with the rest of G-Suite, creating issues with user experience. Office politics complicated things even further and prevented progress from being made.

Perhaps most significantly, Google+ was a platform created out of fear. As social media giant Facebook began to pick up speed (and advertising dollars), Google slapped together its own social network to compete. “[We] built the knowledge graph, and Facebook swooped in and built the social graph. If we don’t own the social graph then we can’t claim to have indexed ALL the world’s data,” wrote Knutson, allegedly quoting an executive. This mindset resulted in a product built not from a unique idea, but out of a desire to copy and outrank the competition.

After its launch, the service was plagued with issues, including famously low usage and engagement. The company disclosed in a blog post that 90 percent of G+ user sessions lasted less than five seconds.

The second data breach served as the perfect excuse to bump up the timeline of the service’s demise. After 7 years, the personal version of the platform will be discontinued.

What does that mean for me?

On April 2nd, your Google+ account and any associated pages you created will be shut down. Google plans to then delete content from those consumer accounts.

If you use Google+’s sign-in button to access sites, these buttons will also stop working in the coming weeks. Some of them will be replaced with a standard Google sign-in button, while others will require you to connect another platform to log in.

What do I do now that Google+ is dead?

First, know that the end of Google’s social network won’t affect your local SEO or your ranking online. All you need to do is a bit of spring cleaning. Remove outdated G+ sharing buttons, icons, and links from your website’s blog posts and footer, and make sure it doesn’t appear on any new marketing collateral or eblasts.

Go ahead and delete your profile if you don’t want to wait for Google’s sweep to eliminate it. If you’re worried about losing any old content, you can download data from your profile here.

Enterprise accounts will still remain active, but we recommend that you spend your time growing social followings on Instagram, Facebook, and Google My Business instead.

Rest in peace, Google+.

If you’d like to build a custom social strategy, give us a call at 949.701.4714. You can also submit a request online, 24/7. Our digital experts will reach out promptly to answer your questions!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“The demise of Google Reader, if logical, is a reminder of how far we’ve come from the cuddly old ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ Google days, in which there was a foreseeably-astonishing delight in the way Google’s evolving design tricks anticipated what users would like.”  James Fallows

Google Reader was officially put to rest today…

If you are shocked that Webconsuls is publishing a blog post today, we’re not surprised.  There was a time when we published a post every day of the week. A couple of years ago, when the economy started to improve we found that our clients needed our assistance in so many new ways…writing blog posts took a back seat. In fact in 2012 we only published 18 posts. But we tried to stay abreast of SEO and SMO news by using Google Reader.

Today there are a number of news articles about the termination of Google Reader, and we were particularly taken by one article that offered a very informative infographic that is appropriately called The Google Graveyard.

A Google Projects Resting Ground

Elisa Gabbert of WordStream wrote a great post and included this fabulous infographic. Read the infographic carefully, you might learn about the coming demise of other Google products.

 

Check out our newly remodeled website…

Hope you have enjoyed stopping by today. By the way, last week we updated our website, please stop by and take a look around.  Let us know what you think.

Reading Time: 4 minutes
too busy to stay connected
Staying connected can be exhausting, even with a ThunderShirt!

Are you too busy to stay connected?

It seems we’ve been too busy. The last time we published a post on this blog was June 12, 2012. There…we admit it. Staying connected should be easy in today’s world. We have so many platforms like FACEBOOK, TWITTER, YouTube and GOOGLE+…but the business of working with our clients has had to be our priority over the past few months. We have added some new clients which included new designs, we’ve worked with some clients with mobile website conversions, there are always updates to be done, staying abreast of SEO and SMO news and we are always coaching our clients on blogging and staying connected. But as they say: “The cobbler’s kids have no shoes and the plumber’s house has leaky pipes.”

Guiding new clients…

The other day a client asked about the best way to stay connected. The first rule is really “just do it!” If you want a FACEBOOK page, then remember very few people are going to “like” your page and stay engaged if you don’t take the time to let them know what is new with your business. Some clients want a full briefing about staying connected in the virtual world, including a history of social media.

Copyblogger comes to the rescue…

Today’s RSS feed included a link to Copyblogger’s latest post: A History of Social Media. And Copyblogger said we could share this history with our own readers. So here goes…be prepared it will take you back 41 years!

history of social media
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

What else keeps us busy?

If the infographic didn’t exhaust you and if you are anything like Webconsuls and our team, then there are probably 50 items on your daily “to do” list. New projects are always fun, it gives us a chance to learn more about our clients and the latest technology.

What’s on your “to do” list today? 

 

 

Reading Time: 3 minutes
google plus

Keeping up with Google Places was almost  considered a full time job. On May 30, 2012, GOOGLE announced that Google Places will now be integrated with Google+ and have a new name Google + Local. I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted.

The Google announcement was published on what they call their Google and Your Business Blog. This article was posted by Jen Fitzpatrick, VP Engineering. I don’t know Ms. Fitzpatrick, but I am pretty sure she is very proud of Google’s latest update; however, I feel she may not have any idea what is involved with running a small business that has come to depend upon Google for generating local business.

What I am going to do is provide you with is a list of good articles that discuss this news in pretty straightforward language.  As Greg Sterling, Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land warned:

“Business owners will probably have a somewhat more difficult transition than consumers, as they’re compelled now to pay attention to Google+ — in a big way. They now ignore Google+ at their own peril.”

Related Articles and Video:
New Google+ Local Replaces Google Places

 

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This week I have been researching reported problems with Google maps. I have read through many forums, blogs, and news articles; however, last night I came across a Google forum in “Maps help”. The topic was Incorrect information in Google Maps / local business center and the poster opens her post with this statement “To the poor already-beaten-up soul at Google who looks at and responds to these issues…” I implore you to read through this forum. It starts on April 1, 2009, and on April 6th Joel H Google Employee joins the forum to aid these Google users. Before you know it people are posting from all over the world and Joel H is being besieged with questions and he is responsive through April 22. Others keep posting but no word from Joel H. Where’s Joel H Google employee?

I googled this phrase {Joel H Google employee} and found mention of him in other blog posts and other Google maps forums. I will say this, Joel H seems to want to help and if you read these forums carefully you will see he even admits when he is wrong.

I am going to give you two examples of what I have witnessed in Google maps for two of our clients.

  • La Fuente Restaurant in Tucson, AZ: Their Google map listing under local results for Mexican Restaurants Tucson AZ suddenly displayed the wrong domain name (that of a locksmith) and the wrong phone number.
  • Kingsleigh Inn Southwest Harbor, ME: Suddenly their Google map listing under local results for lodging Southwest Harbor ME disappeared; however, the inn next door to them is listed – including 78 reviews of the Kingsleigh and a number of photos of the Kingsleigh Inn!

I can only assume that somewhere worlds have started to collide in Google maps. I don’t know why…some talk about duplicate listings, scrapings, mergings, suppressions, conflating listings…the bottom line is this is a “free” service offered by Google. I could offer the old adage “it is worth what you paid for it”…but really if your listing is wrong through no fault of your own how much is this costing your business?

My advice to every business owner is to check your listing. Take the time to review and learn about Google’s Local Business Center.

I hope Joel H Google Employee reappears in these forums and that Google can solve the “implosion” mystery. Let’s remember these listings are the lifelines for many businesses, this is not a game of “Where’s Waldo”.

Reading Time: 4 minutes
google penguin opus 1
Another famous penguin – OPUS (circa 1985)

There has been much written about GOOGLE’s Penguin update which was released on April 24, 2012. This is one of the latest algorithm updates that GOOGLE has been working on – to improve search results. But let’s try to remember: improvement, like beauty, is usually in the eye of the beholder. Indeed some businesses have seen their results improve, while others have witnessed a free fall.

The purpose of today’s post is to share with our readers and our clients some good resources to understand GOOGLE’s Penguin goals and take a little time to review your site. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. GOOGLE like every major player in search engines is making updates all of the time. Some updates gain more notoriety and some happen quietly. To appreciate how often GOOGLE updates their algorithms, take a peek at this algorithm change history.
  2. GOOGLE is known for naming their updates. This is a common practice in the IT world or any project driven business. It makes discussing or recalling the project, that much easier.
  3. GOOGLE does share their best practices guidelines. They encourage webmasters to read and understand their Quality Guidelines. However, if you have a website for the purposes of promoting your business, be proactive and read the guidelines, most of it is written for the non-technical person.
  4. A good rule to follow when creating and updating your site: “Say what you do and do what you say!” Create one great site, avoid duplicate content and mirrored sites. Or as GOOGLE says: “Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.”

As promised, below we will provide links to a few interesting articles about Penguin. You might also like to watch these videos of GOOGLE’s Matt Cutts discussing penalties and web spam.

Related article

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Google wave

Just about two and one-half years ago I wrote a post about GOOGLE’s WAVE. The post was entitled Eight Google WAVE Invitations – Is Anybody Going to Wave Back?   Guess what? Nobody waved back.  So I thought I would do a public service announcement for our clients and regular readers to let you know it is official.  The sun is setting on the final wave.

Today I received the following email message from The Wave Team:

Dear Wavers,


More than a year ago we announced that Google Wave would no longer be developed as a separate product. Back in November 2011, we shared the specific dates for ending this maintenance period and shutting down Wave. Google Wave is now in read-only mode. This is reminder that the Wave service will be turned off on April 30, 2012. You will be able to continue exporting individual waves using the existing PDF export feature until the Google Wave service is turned off. We encourage you to export any important data before April 30, 2012.


If you would like to continue using Wave, there are a number of open source projects, including Apache Wave. There is also an open source project called Walkaround that includes an experimental feature that lets you import all your Waves from Google. This feature will also work until the Wave service is turned off on April 30, 2012.


For more details, please see our help center.


Yours sincerely,


The Wave Team

The following YouTube video is dedicated to The Wave Team.

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Google blogger
Over the past couple of years I have written about such things as designing for the guest experience and not being shy about offering a suggestion to a business, no matter how big or small the business entity. I have also talked about the importance of saying “Thank You!”
 
Today I want to share a story of how I made a suggestion to Google’s BLOGGER design team and at the same time say “BLOGGER, Thank you for listening!”
 
First a little background.  It would be helpful if you Google this phrase: external links should open new window. You are going to see a lot of search engine result pages (SERP). Millions! The bottom line is this, good design promotes good user experience and if your web page or blog post includes links to other pages, then when the user clicks on the link a new browser page should open. After all, you want your reader/client/customer to be able to find their way back to your site and the cleanest way to do that is to open a new window.
 
If you understand HTML coding, then you know having a link open in a new window is a simple piece of code: target=”_blank”.  But you need to know where to place the code and therein lies the problem with guiding and teaching clients on how to use a blogging platform and how to insure their external links will open in a new window.  
 
Over the past few years I made the acquaintance of some of the BLOGGER team while attending Blog World Expo. And they always encourage you to send them suggestions.  In January 2011,  I sent an email to Brett Wiltshire which included the following suggestion:
         “When inserting a link in the blog text it would be wonderful if the user could easily check a box in the EDIT LINK BOX that says  “open in a new browser” . Some users know how to insert the html code < target=”_blank”>, but this can be  very hard to teach to clients.”
About six weeks ago, I was working on a client’s blog and realized the BLOGGER team acted on my suggestion. Or I choose to think they liked my suggestion! See the screen shot below:
 
blogger link
See the little check box “Open this link in a new window”? This little enhancement is such a time saver for the writer and the reader.
 
Thank you, BLOGGER, for listening. 
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Do you have a business Google Plus page? A number of our clients have inquired about setting up a Google+ page for their businesses.  We have been trying to stay abreast of this new social media arena and for a couple of months I have been gathering article links to share with our clients. (You can see these and more below.) But in the meantime…

First: Watch A Short Video from GOOGLE

 Second: Check Out Useful Print Screens of How to Start Creating Your Business Google Plus Page

google business
On your GOOGLE+ home page look for the “Create a Google+ Page in the right margin and CLICK

 







create google business page
Pick a Category and get started

Third: Consider Buying Chris Brogan’s Latest Book
Now you are probably thinking this might be strange advice. But consider this: Chris’ latest book is “Google+ for Business: How Google’s Social Network Changes Everything” and according to the McClatchy-Tribune News Service Chris Brogan’s book is one of the top 25 books that Corporate America is reading.  Go ahead and visit Amazon, (not an affiliate link) you can read reviews and/or buy the paperback book, the Kindle Edition or an audible Audio Edition. Here’s why I think you will find Chris’ book helpful:

  • If you read Chris’s blog, then you already know he is a good writer. His writing is interesting, but at the same time easy to follow.
  • We have introduced you to Chris many times here at Webconsuls.  Chris should not be a stranger to you.

Fourth: Enjoy A Video of Chris Discussing GOOGLE+ For Business 

Ok, this is our full report.  We hope you find all of this information helpful.  Remember, as a business owner you really need to understand and manage this social media platform for yourself.  Only you can tell your story…

Would love to read your comments…

Reading Time: 10 minutes
Window shopping at Simpsons department store. ...Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday there were a number of GOOGLE headlines that went something like this: “Ten Recent Algorithm Changes.”(See links to other articles below) I don’t know about you, but whenever I read the word ‘algorithm’ I start to shudder. So in order to calm myself I try to think of an analogy that I can relate to our clients and help put things into everyday language.

One of GOOGLE’s changes is a new twist on fresh content. They believe that if you are searching for something on the web, then you probably want the “freshest” information. I could argue that a lot of my searches are for historical information, but we will talk about that another time.  The reason I want to talk to you about fresh content is that this is a guideline that Webconsuls’ team discusses with their clients on a regular basis, so now GOOGLE is again validating what all of us have really known for a long, long time.

“If you are trying to sell something, goods or services, you need to think like a window dresser.”

Do you know what a window dresser is? You don’t have to live in New York City to understand the importance of the professional window dresser. I am going to venture a guess that in any city, town, village or hamlet the most interestingly dressed store windows get the best traffic and probably can boast the best sales.

Now let’s think about window shopping. Old fashion window shopping is free! Do you see what I mean? The free part is you being able to take yourself or your whole family to a store…like Macys or to a mall and walk around and touch the items, try on the items, dream a little, put something on lay-away…and maybe, just maybe be so pleased by the user experience you will eventually make a purchase. Virtual window shopping is also free, but one can’t “touch” or “try on the goods”, so the content quality needs to be fresh and inviting.

The success of window dressing and window shopping is dependent on fresh content.”

This isn’t rocket science. The word algorithm makes it seem so, but it is really social science. When a person is looking for information, goods, services, they now tend to look on-line. They can buy items from all over the country, continent, or world. So how do you get their attention?  Simple! Be clear about what you are selling (in every sense of the word) and keep your content current and relevant.  Let me tell you a story…

“Some 30+ years ago I lived and worked in Hollywood, CA area. My office was on Vermont Avenue and I lived on Barham Blvd.  There was a wonderful gentleman who lived in my complex and owned a sundry store near the corner of Sunset Blvd and Vermont Avenue. My employer sometimes would ask me to go to the bank to make the daily commercial deposit, so one day as I am walking down Sunset Blvd I notice Sanford’s little store. The window dressings were so old and dusty that I almost didn’t walk in, but I wanted to say hi to my friend. When I got in the store what I saw was more dust, shampoo bottles with contents that had already separated and then I spotted Sandy behind the counter. I started to giggle and picked up one of the shampoo bottles…I asked him who would buy this stuff. He laughed and said: ‘Judy, I am not in the business of selling sundries; I offer a check cashing service for a fee!’ ”

There was no window dressing that said “Check Cashing Service”, in fact you had to creep around the store to discern that this service was the primary business. Do you see the irony in this story? I know you do. You might call this the “sales prevention department!” Again, it isn’t rocket science.

So what can you do to make sure your content is fresh and refreshing?

  1. Review your site for accuracy. Do this on a regular basis. Look for “dust”!
  2. Remember to keep your webmaster informed about new products, locations, staff members, sales.
  3. Take new photos.
  4. Consider publishing press releases.
  5. If you have a blog, check to see when you last published a post.  Remember each post is considered fresh content by GOOGLE.
  6. If you have a business Facebook page, be sure to have it linked to your business website.
  7. Link all of your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn) to your website.
  8. Make sure your GOOGLE Places page is current. Read your reviews. Respond to your reviews.

And yes, there is this new thing called GOOGLE+ for business page.  I will be back in a few days to give you a primer in this latest way to keep your content fresh.

In the meantime…pretend you are a customer, go window shopping on your website, then pretend you are a window dresser. You may not care about fresh content, but GOOGLE does. What changes would you make? How would you freshen up your virtual storefront?

Reading Time: 5 minutes
The Allianz MX450 Mechanical Street SweeperImage via Wikipedia

The street sweeper just drove through your GOOGLE Place page. And it might have been swept clean of reviews. Go ahead…mosey over to your GOOGLE Place page. You will notice a few changes. The most important visible change is, according to GOOGLE:

“Based on careful thought about the future direction of Place pages, and feedback we’ve heard over the past few months, review snippets from other web sources have now been removed from Place pages. Rating and review counts reflect only those that’ve been written by fellow Google users, and as part of our continued commitment to helping you find what you want on the web, we’re continuing to provide links to other review sites so you can get a comprehensive view of locations across the globe.”

Ok, here is what GOOGLE is saying: Let’s say that you own a country inn and you have a GOOGLE Place Page. Up until July 21, 2011, the number of reviews displayed to the right of your GOOGLE Place Page result on the search engine results page would have been the sum total of all reviews:  Google users + Trip Advisor + Bed and Breakfast + Yahoo users.  Now the number of reviews displayed will be the total of GOOGLE users, and if NO GOOGLE users have reviewed your property then it will just display the words Place Page. Now you really need to take the time to reach out to your customers, clients, guests, shoppers. If they are GOOGLE users encourage them to write a review. And should they write a review (good or bad) respond to the review.

Like I said at the beginning of this post…the street sweeper went down your GOOGLE Place and if you are a business owner you might want to make sure the street sweeper didn’t change the look of your property too much.  You know what I mean.  Think back to where ever you have physically lived before. Did the street sweeper come by once a week, maybe every month? Remember the street signs that would say “No Parking 9:00AM-Noon TUESDAY STREET CLEANING”?  Did you ever forget to move your car?

The GOOGLE Places update that took place last Thursday happened quickly and without warning. It might have been nice to know the street sweeper was coming.  What do you think?

 

Reading Time: 6 minutes

In this Newsletter we discuss two recent Google news stories and also something that may be coming down the road from Google.

Google made the news recently with two stories – a change to its algorithm and also an explicit penalty imposed on the rankings of two large retailers. Judy Helfand has written an excellent piece on the Webconsuls’ blog that provides more information about Google, algorithms, and the penalties. The information given by Google about this change could be helpful to you for improving your rankings.

In its official blog, Google states that its goal – “to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible.” Last week’s change is intended to reduce the rankings for what Google considers to be low quality sites – sites with low valued added, sites that have copied content from other sites, and sites that just don’t provide useful information. As low quality sites are reduced in ranking, then higher quality sites should improve.

Webconsuls avoids the tactics that Google is trying to penalize. We have found that our clients have not been negatively affected by the change, and many have benefited by the improvement given to higher quality sites.

Google’s goal of providing relevant answers to queries is simple to state and helps provide a roadmap you can use to improve the results from your web site. First, and most importantly, is it clear that your web site provides content for relevant searches? Does your site accurately and fairly completely describe the products and/or services you offer and the geographical area you serve?

Once you are confident that your site completely and accurately describes your business and its products and services, then how would you rate its quality? Does it provide useful information? Is the content original or merely copied from another site?

In another story Google found that Overstock.com and J. C. Penney were using deceptive practices to boost their positioning and dropped their rankings. It is tempting for a small business to think that will not happen to them, but there is a Google experiment that may work its way into the actual rankings. Google’s web browser is called Chrome, and Chrome now has a feature that lets users block sites. Once a viewer block a site, then that viewer will not see it again. Google assumes that Chrome users are blocking low quality sites. While so far Google says that Chrome blocks are not in the rankings, it is something that could be used in the future.

In summary, Google has made changes to its algorithms. These changes are designed to penalize low quality sites and reward sites with original valuable content. Google has also penalized major retailers who were deceiving its system to boost their rankings. Google is also experimenting with other ways to detect low value sites. Google’s goal is to provide relevant answers to search queries. You should make sure that your site has original content that fully describes your business.

Dick, Dennis and Judy

Reading Time: 11 minutes
GOOGLE makes news every day. If you don’t see the headlines hot off the presses, you may catch them later via a TWITTER feed, a Nightly News program, a cable news program, a co-worker, a client, a FACEBOOK page, or even GOOGLE’s Official Blog. February 2011 was flush with GOOGLE news. News about algorithms, JCPenney and Overstock.com. Each bit of news is vital for you to understand how it relates to your  business efforts regarding search engine optimization and your search results.

Let’s start with algorithms…

Do you know what an algorithm is? According to Wikipedia: “In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is an effective method expressed as a finite list of well-defined instructions for calculating a function. Algorithms are used for calculation, data processing, and automated reasoning.” All you really need to know for this conversation is that GOOGLE uses many algorithms to deliver SEARCH results to those that use the GOOGLE search engine. Oh, and one more thing:  GOOGLE is constantly reviewing and tweaking their SEARCH algorithms.

Everyone dreams of being #1 out of 2 million+ results, or at least everyone dreams about being on page 1. Right?  I am not talking about being #1 for your business name, most businesses can accomplish that feat with a little time, good content and responsible search engine optimization. No, what I am talking about is being #1 or on page 1 for a really competitive, albeit generic, keyword or keyword phrase. The fact is there is a lot of competition for most businesses’ wares and services, unless of course you have a very specific niche with no competition.  I will not belabor this, but instead invite you to read GOOGLE’s entire announcement for their latest algorithm update, that really deals with what they call “content farms”.  Here is an important highlight:

“Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

We can’t make a major improvement without affecting rankings for many sites. It has to be that some sites will go up and some will go down. Google depends on the high-quality content created by wonderful websites around the world, and we do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem. Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.”

What about GOOGLE and JCPenney?

We all know JCPenney, the store. Heck, I used to live in a town where the only “department store” was JCPenney. We didn’t have a Macy’s, SEARS, K-Mart, Walmart, Bloomingdales, Nordstroms…somehow we managed and what we couldn’t find in the store itself we purchased from the JCPenney catalog. Did you know it was founded in 1902? That is a lot of merchandising.  But this month the New York Times reported to GOOGLE that JCPenney’s website was violating GOOGLE’s “link scheme” policy. GOOGLE investigated the claim and after finding the claim to be true, then took action against JCPenney.

On Wednesday evening[in early February], Google began what it calls a “manual action” against Penney, essentially demotions specifically aimed at the company.
At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for ‘Samsonite carry on luggage.’
Two hours later, it was at No. 71.
At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Penney was No. 1 in searches for ‘living room furniture.’
By 9 p.m., it had sunk to No. 68.
In other words, one moment Penney was the most visible online destination for living room furniture in the country.
The next it was essentially buried.
PENNEY reacted to this instant reversal of fortune by, among other things, firing its search engine consulting firm.”

And now about Overstock.com…

I have never bought anything from Overstock.com, but then I am not much of a shopper. How about you?  I see their television ads and I have visited their website a number of times when I was trying to find an obscure item.  This story also has to do with links, but particular link types and how GOOGLE’s algorithm considers .edu links.  The fact is GOOGLE views both .edu and .gov sites as trusted and authoritative. Now it seems that Overstock.com was “gaming the system” and GOOGLE took action.

“The incident, according to Overstock, stemmed in part from its practice of encouraging websites of colleges and universities to post links to Overstock pages so that students and faculty could receive discounts on the shopping site. Overstock said it discontinued the program on Feb. 10, before hearing from Google, but said some university webmasters have been slow to remove the links.”

The bottom line to all of these incidents is that we’d all like to think there was some fairness in the wide world of the World Wide Web. If you own a business it is natural that you want to do well and you probably want to be able to sleep at night. Right?  

My thoughts about GOOGLE’s actions are: A few years ago, I saw a movie, “The Winslow Boy”, and in the closing scene a defense attorney states: “I wept today because right had been done.” When questioned by the defendant’s sister, “Not justice?” to this the attorney replied, “No, not justice. Right. Easy to do ‘justice’. Very hard to do ‘right’.” GOOGLE tries to do right.

My thoughts about businesses that attempt to game the systems:  Mark Twain said it best. “The glory which is built upon a lie soon becomes a most unpleasant encumbrance. How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!”

It would be great to hear from you. What do you think about GOOGLE’s attempt to level the playing field?

 

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crew of Space Shuttle mission STS-51-LImage via Wikipedia

This past week has been filled with historic anniversaries like President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address and while this is a business blog, I think it is important to sometimes stop and remember the impact of these significant events. When I talk of impact I am not just talking about personal memories, but also how events shape our creativity and spark our willingness to take a chance. In today’s world it appears we don’t really have to rely on our personal memories or historical facts. Easy enough to “Google it” or search Wikipedia, as our brains have become cluttered with usernames and passwords.

I have written previously about my memory of Man’s Walk on the Moon. It was a great day for Americans, important for all mankind, but we should today stop to remember a cold winter day, January 28, 1986, when we watched live as the Challenger lifted off from Cape Canaveral.

People of my generation were raised on the space program. It is our program. From the very early days families were committed to watching each endeavor on television. We were deeply saddened, horrified even, when on January 27, 1967 (44 years ago yesterday), the crew of Apollo 1 died in a cabin fire during a pre-launch test.

So it was on January 28, 1986, I was living and working in Conway, New Hampshire, and we were all excited that Christa McAuliffe of Concord, NH, was chosen to be the NASA’s Teacher in Space.  I for sure was going to watch the lift off.  It was a Tuesday; I believe NASA may have decided to plan this take-off to occur on a school day so that students throughout the nation could watch the event on live TV (CNN).  We had an old black and white television in our work lunch room. At about 11:00AM I walked downstairs and took a seat with my co-workers. There was a lot of excitement in the air. The news cameras actively panned the public observers at Cape Canaveral, including Christa’s parents. And as we all watched the final countdown and lift-off the cameras panned back to the crowd and then we knew by the look on Christa’s parents’ faces something was terribly wrong. The trail in the sky was not normal…and they were gone.

In shock, we continued to watch CNN for a while longer. I reached for the phone and called Dennis. He was watching at home. I went back to my office and throughout the day my co-workers and I took turns monitoring CNN’s coverage. And so the day went.

This February 1st we will stop to remember the 8th Anniversary of the Columbia disaster. Yes, I was watching live coverage on that Saturday morning, too. Like I said this is our program and it came to be because of a young president’s challenge 50 years ago.

25 years…hard to believe. Here’s to the crew: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis and Judith Resnik.

I would love for you to share your memories…

 

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Reading Time: 8 minutes
reviewing 2010Image via Wikipedia
Webconsuls’ 2010/2011 Winter Newsletter
If 2010 was nothing else, it was a fast year. It seems only yesterday Dick Fay and I were working on our 2009 Winter Newsletter and now here we are writing our 2010/2011 Winter Newsletter. We want to take a few minutes to: Thank our Webconsuls’ clients, introduce our newest clients, highlight some marketing and software ideas, suggest two resolutions for you and support our not-for-profit clients who assist children in need.
Thanking our clients…
Webconsuls and our team appreciates our clients. We learn from each and every client by optimizing their sites, designing new sites, building blogs, coaching our clients on new software and responding to their marketing needs. As you may know, we have clients across the United States (actually in 11 states) and in two foreign countries, representing industries from hospitality to law, health care to home maintenance, real estate to retail, sports and recreation to performing arts. There is never a dull day.
Introducing our clients who joined us in 2010…
We invite you to meet our new clients and visit their websites.
Highlighting some marketing and software suggestions…

 

We know the internet is fluid. It changes daily. We try to keep our clients abreast of these changes by writing this blog, researching our clients’ requests, providing news’ feeds on our website, and publishing our newsletter. Over the past few years we have blogged a lot about social media/Google/Twitter. We have built blogs for our clients, we have worked with our clients to establish their Facebook business page.  Additionally, over the past year…
  • Dick has been particularly active assisting our clients by adding shopping carts with either PayPal or Authorize.net functionality.
  • Dennis worked with clients to add a LIVEPerson feature for online customer engagement.
  • Malik, our lead designer and web developer, is also proficient in designing clients’ e-newsletters using Constant Contact and Vertical Response.
  • Keith, our PPC specialist, works closely with several of our PPC clients to utilize phone conversion optimization software.  
  • Alycia, our branding expert, has been focused on improving Client Web 2.0 and specific SEO-related enhancements.
Suggesting two resolutions for you…

 

The first is to start reading our Webconsuls’ blog on a regular basis.  As we said above, with our blog we communicate new information that we think is important to on-line marketing and social media.


The second is to start and maintain your own blog.  Our clients with blogs generally receive more traffic than clients in similar fields without them.  Blogger now allows you to easily monitor your blog stats.  A blog is easy and relatively inexpensive to create.  Routinely writing posts can be a challenge, but it can  be rewarding with more virtual exposure, traffic, and new business.  You might start by also reading some of our clients’ blogs like –  Delytes – A ‘green’ fine foods company  or Attorney Carilyn Ibsen’s blog  or Attorney Will Bruzzo’s blog.

Finally supporting our not-for-profit clients…

 

This year, as in years past, Webconsuls made a donation in honor of our clients to those not-for- profit clients who work to support children and families in need.

Olive Crest Homes and Services for Abused Children
Since 1973, Olive Crest has transformed the lives of over 50,000 abused, neglected, and at-risk children and their families.

The Promises Foundation Miriam’s House
The Promises Foundation is committed to restoring hope for families by creating a safe environment for mothers and their children to grow and develop the tools they require to live meaningful and self-sufficient lives.

The Forrest General Healthcare Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Forrest General Hospital. The foundation helps ensure that the hospital’s vision of C.A.R.E. becomes a reality for the 17 county region that the hospital serves. Initiatives include the Inpatient Hospice Home Project, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Renovation Project and the Spiritual Grounds at Pine Grove.

We wish you a healthy and prosperous New Year. Let us know if 2011 is the year you want to add some new features to your on-line marketing. We will be happy to discuss these opportunities and plan a strategy with you.

Sincerely,
Dennis, Dick and Judy

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If you have a business website it is probably safe to assume that on occasion you might feel overwhelmned by GOOGLE. “How do I get my site to be #1 on the search engine results page (SERP)?” “How can I move up on GOOGLE Places?” “How do I deal with negative reviews that appear on the web?” In the past we have written a few posts about reviews and guest (user) experience. We have tried to give you our best business advice along with our best on-line marketing advice.

Are you wondering where I am going with this? Here’s the deal. On November 28, 2010, I saw a New York Times tweet that said: A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web. I couldn’t resist clicking over to the story and after reading this shocking article I then forwarded it to Dick and Dennis. On Monday morning my brother-in-law sent me a link to the article, he too was shocked. I kept wondering what if anything can be done about an on-line merchant that is so bold and conniving. Unconscionable is really the best word to describe this merchant.

Now comes the good news. GOOGLE decided to get involved.  I don’t want to speak for GOOGLE, click here and you can read their post about their algorithmic solution. It is fascinating and gives me hope that GOOGLE is really trying to provide a good service. As they said:

“We can’t say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day.” 

I would like to thank the New York Times for running the article about the merchant, Vitaly Borker, and I would like to hear what you think about this news. Leave a comment, won’t you?

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Have you claimed your GOOGLE Place Page yet?  Remember when I talked about GOOGLE Local becoming GOOGLE Places? In September I wrote about how GOOGLE Places was upgraded to a TWO-WAY STREET.  Webconsuls subscribes to a number of SEO/SMO on-line newsletters and also makes SMO and SEO News Feeds available for our site users. One of our favorite newsletters is Planet Ocean’s Search Engine News and we read with interest their current article “Must Do List for November: Create, Claim, Improve Your Google Places Page.”  Here is a bit of what they have to say:

“Google has rolled out Place Search which is a whole new way of displaying search results. This combines the natural and the local search algorithms and completely eliminates the traditional 7 pack and integrating it within the top 7 results. This is huge! The new algorithm relies heavily on Place Pages and it’s clear that without a Place Page you may be left behind. Here’s a location specific search that shows exactly what’s changed:

google places

 

“One thing to notice is that all the top results had very complete place pages that included pictures, reviews, links etc. As time goes by the consequences of the changes to local search will become clearer. The one thing we can tell you right now is you MUST have a complete Places Page for your business or you WILL be left behind in local search! Regardless how completed or not your Place Page is – make sure it is as complete as possible before December. This is the advice you pay us to hear…do yourself a favor and listen.”

Ok, I am going to run through this information again.
 Follow these steps:

·         Go to  Google Places
·         Sign in with your business GMail address
·         On the new screen click on LIST YOUR BUSINESS
·         A new screen will appear and you will be asked to enter your non-toll-free phone number and then hit the button that says: Find Business Information
·         Your current business address will appear and you will click on EDIT to update your listing.
·         A new screen will appear where you will be allowed to give all of the pertinent information about your business.
·         At the end of this process, when you hit submit, GOOGLE is going to call you within seconds to give you and PIN number to activate your account.
·         It is very important that you be there to answer the non-toll-free number.  This is one of their ways of verification of business ownership.
 
You may be wondering why we just don’t take care of this for you.  We have found that this free Google service is better managed by the customer for a number of reasons. 
  1. Google frowns upon 3rd party management of these accounts, as we are not the business owner.
  2. While we could go in and perhaps enter all of the information correctly, we are not sitting at your phone to take the call from Google and to try to coordinate that with you or your employee can be very difficult.
  3. Now that Google Places allows the business owner to respond to REVIEWS (good and bad) you really need to manage and understand this tool.  We cannot respond for you.

Should you decide you need help with this, I would be happy to tutor you over the phone while you CLAIM YOUR PLACE and LIST YOUR BUSINESS.  Let me know if you have questions. 

Let’s make it a goal: Get your GOOGLE Place Page in Order!

 

parking sign
 Your Parking “PLACE” (Page) Awaits YOU!
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Did the title of this post, “THE Can Be a Powerful Word”, get your attention? Think about it for a minute. Now if I say: “It’s THE Real Thing” or “When you care enough to send THE very best”, I’ll bet you can name what brand each statement refers to without blinking an eye.  Am I right?

Branding is something every business needs to do. Establishing a brand can be taxing. You create a name, you create a product, maybe you get a patent, maybe you apply for a trademark, maybe you copyright your material, and maybe you are the product! And after all is said and done “the customer owns the brand” as Jeff Hayzlett informed us at Blog World Expo 2010.

I am not sure, but I suspect that the Mandalay Bay Resort management was thinking about their customers when (according to Wikipedia) “In 2006, the lettering at the top of the tower changed to ‘THEhotel’ to distinguish the property. Formerly, the lettering was identical to the ‘Mandalay Bay’ letters at the top of the original tower.” You see the Mandalay Bay Resort opened in 1999; however, what is now referred to as THEhotel at Mandalay Bay opened in 2003.

Prior to the name change imagine the confusion a hotel guest faced: What do you tell the taxi driver, upon arrival you might not be sure which hotel tower to check-in at…or you may wander around in the casino and then make your way back to the wrong hotel tower. (Think Co-Op City in THE Bronx!)

the hotel

As you know Blog World Expo 2010 was held at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Convention Center. Happily I was a guest at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay.  I can truly say THEhotel is a well designed beautiful hotel. Every room is a suite, no smaller than 725 square feet. And THE is the only word you need to know when you are trying to find your way around THEhotel. They don’t have fancy or clever names for their on-site amenities or venues: THEpad, THEtp, baTHE (toiletries), THElounge, THEcafe, THEstore, THEcoffeebar. (click on the photo on the left) You see what I mean? Simple and understated. This customer owns the brand!

In closing, I would like to share something I rediscovered today about the word THE. Did you know: “that the pronunciation of the definite article ‘the’ changes, primarily depending on whether the following sound is a consonant or a vowel?” Before a consonant sound the pronunciation is thuh, before a vowel sound it is usually thee.

By the way, if you think I am off base when I say THE can be a powerful word, maybe I can interest you in a UBS commercial effort.

On the other hand, THE Google never did sound right and we are told in “The Social Network” movie that it was Sean Parker who advised Mark Zuckerberg and  Eduardo Saverin to drop THE from The FACEBOOK.

Your thoughts?
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Reading Time: 11 minutes
This past weekend, October 14-16, I learned a little of how to be Webconsuls’ Chief Listening Officer (CLO). Yes, the C-Suite at many companies does now include a CLO and happily I attended Blog World Expo 2010 to learn how to listen, engage, and as @lizstrauss says “manage the present and create the future.” This is my second year participating in Blog World and I will tell you it was an entirely different experience in many ways.  Here are my “outtakes” from this year’s conference:

FOUNDATION
Familiarity can make conference attendance a little easier. The on-line registration process was simple. Blog World’s Blog allows potential attendees to get to know more about Blog World and the key players at Blog World. In addition to their blog, you can also stay current and engaged by “liking” them on Facebook and following them on Twitter @blogworld.airplane wing

I flew Southwest Airlines again this year direct non-stop from Tucson to Las Vegas. Last year I was a bit overwhelmed by their boarding process, but what a difference a year makes. I like Southwest!hotel room

This year the conference venue was the Mandalay Bay Resort and Conference Center. I cannot say enough good about Mandalay Bay. I hope to do another post just about this experience. It was great to be able to enjoy the conference and know your suite was just upstairs, a short walk and elevator ride away.

During the past several months I “met” Deb Ng, Blog World’s Conference Manager, Allison Boyer, a Blog World Blogger, and Rick Calvert, Blog World’s Founder via Twitter, Facebook and blogging. I set a goal to meet them in person.

Over the past year I have also met some very interesting people, like John McLachlan, so engaging them at Blog World was a major goal for me.

KEYNOTES and SESSIONS

Deb Ng did a fantastic job of putting together a diverse conference schedule. I hope this link stays live for a while so you can peruse what life is all about at Blog World. (Disclaimer: I took advantage of the Weekend Pass, so I was not in town for the October 14 events.)

Blog World sessions are designed by tracks. For example, if you are a TRAVEL blogger you can opt to attend only sessions that deal with the travel industry or if you are non-profit you attend sessions and learn from the social media experts on how to tweak your social media campaigns. But…you can mix and match.

I attended three of the Keynote addresses, but the most provocative was Friday morning’s State of Digital Communications in Politics with Mark Penn, Karen Hughes, Hugh Hewitt, and Reid Wilson. This keynote was moderated by Blog World’s founder, Rick Calvert. (I learned for the first time that Rick is a self-described “political junkie.”) For a few minutes Rick had to do some masterful moderating!

I chose sessions that had to do with SEO and monetization. The Social Media and Corporate America was very informative. Where else can you listen to expert strategists like Jeffrey Hayzlett (think KODAK), Frank Eliason (formerly of COMCAST, presently SVP of Social for Citi), Bonin Bough (PEPSICO) and Scott Monty (FORD Motor Company)? I think it was Mr. Hayzlett who cautioned us to remember “the customer owns the brand” and you better have a “Chief Listening Officer” in your C-Suite (no matter the size of your company).

I enjoyed meeting C.C. Chapman (I have been reading his blog for about six months) and learning from him on the panel “How to Hire a Social Media Agency.”

Liz Strauss, Carol Roth and Terry St. Marie (@starbucker) are very personable and they offered valuable strategies for building your on-line business, such as “Think BIG and value your time!”

blog worldFriday afternoon I attended the Monetization Super Panel (two hour session). Learning from successful bloggers like: Anita Campbell, Darren Rowse, John Chow and Jeremy Schoemaker was exciting. They talked about affiliate marketing, Commission Junction, and provided a road map of how one can monetize their blog. The next morning I ran into Darren Rowse walking through the lobby of Thehotel at Mandalay Bay. We had a nice conversation.

Socialization, Exhibitors and More

judy helfand

I did meet Deb Ng and Allison Boyer. This took a little time as there were over 4000 people attending the conference. You would be surprised how hard it can be to spot someone with PINK hair…hello Allison! I saw Rick Calvert a lot, but he was BUSY. I did not meet him personally, maybe next year.

I was able to meet and spend some good time with John McLachlan. You can see our photo here. We were able to attend some sessions together and had a nice dinner.

For the first time GOOGLE was an exhibitor, specifically BLOGGER.  This was wonderful as Webconsuls is a BLOGGER house, that is we use and recommend the BLOGGER platform. Imagine my surprise to meet Brett Wiltshire manning the BLOGGER/GOOGLE booth. Brett has been working on a question we posed about BLOGGER, so it was great to meet Brett in person. Also, I answered a BLOGGER survey and received a BLOGGER T-shirt.

hostessI have a friend MaryAnn Martinez; she is a news reporter for Fox5News in Las Vegas. MaryAnn called me Saturday afternoon to tell me she had passes to see Shakira. Shakira’s concert was Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Event Center(see photo below).  Can you beat that?  What a night!

Finally, while leaving Las Vegas, I had $7 in quarters that Dennis has given me prior to leaving Tucson. I played a slot machine at the Las Vegas airport and won $120. I put it in my pocket and waited for my flight home.

Ok, that is about it. I need to get back to work. If you were at BWE10, let me hear from you.

Hope to see you at Blog World Expo 2011.

blog world