BREAKING: Google is Learning How to Think Like You

Type 'Queen' into Google.

Are you looking for information on the rock band? The Queen of England? The novel by Alex Haley? The street in Toronto?

You know the answer, but to Google, 'Queen' has equal value wherever it appears. But thanks to a new feature called Google Knowledge Graph, that's about to change.

Knowledge Graph, which begins rolling out to some users on May 16, streamlines your search by separating results into categories. A search for 'Queen' might create boxes for music, the monarchy, books, and Toronto, for example, and clicking on the appropriate box will narrow your search to that category.

In other words, Google is learning how to think more like you. Knowledge Graph is currently supported by a database on 500 million people, places, and things, and it uses 3.5 billion attributes and connections to identify them. The application will get 'smarter' as the rollout continues.

Google Places Debuts New Features

If your business has multiple locations, some new Google Places features will be music to your ears.

The changes are designed to simplify the upload and management processes. With the new tools, you can:

- Edit several listings at once

- Search your listings, filtering by specific information or listings with errors

- Upload new listings with a data file, or add them individually within the interface

- Easily send feedback using a "Give Feedback" link

These two short videos show the features in action. The first video is for new users who can't make bulk uploads yet, and the second is for verified users. If you still have questions, ask us.

Vital Online Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

Over at Small Business Computing, 4 Walls CEO Ellen Thompson joined several other digital marketing gurus to offer a variety of useful online marketing tips. Click to read expert advice about 11 online marketing tools, including Ellen's advice about the importance of blogs.

4 Walls Presents 4Mindshare Custom Blogging Service

4 Walls knows your company is unique. Our 4Mindshare Level 3 Custom Blogging Service will help you share unique content with your prospects and clients. Click here to learn more.

Alexa Rankings: You Can't Believe Everything You Read Online

I recently questioned a friendly competitor if the Farmer/Panda Google update had affected his traffic. I noticed his site's Alexa ranking had recently tanked. He reminded me that Alexa has its limitations, especially as a tool to evaluate ILS efficacy.

My own site’s current Alexa rankings prove his point. For example, one of my city-specific sites clocked 35,000 visits in the past few days. Its current 1-month Alexa ranking is about 900K. A site I just launched a few months ago had a couple thousand visits in the trailing 30 days and has a 1-month Alexa ranking of about 600K.

Why does this happen? Alexa makes assumptions about the popularity of websites using just a subset of all Internet users who have downloaded the Alexa toolbar. If people who download the toolbar either don't go or are more likely than average to visit sites like yours, your Alexa rating will be distorted.

My friend also reminded me that there are plenty of leads and leases being generated on third party sites, so it's theoretical to survive as an ILS with virtually no traffic to your site—but that's for another blog post. In the meantime, when you are looking at Alexa and other website traffic rating sites, just remember what your mother told you: Don't believe everything you read.

 

SEO: What’s In and What’s Out

What is important for Search Engine Optimization changes over time making articles that are just a year or two old already outdated (including mine).

Although Google and other search engines don’t give us a crystal ball, here is what seems to be working and irrelevant to your search engine results today.

What Works

Keyword Research. If you don’t know what people are actually typing in, how do you know what to optimize for?

Title Tags. These are still important for rankings as well as usability, since this is what people see both in the search results and when they bookmark your page.

Great Content. If you don’t have great content, you will never have long-term success with SEO. People stay on your site longer and link to your site when you have great content. Both of these things support SEO. Building great content rather than relying on constant SEO tweaks as search engine algorithms change is also a more durable SEO strategy.

Link Building. A link to your site is like a vote for your site. The more links in, the better. That being said, don’t waste your money hiring people to build inbound links. Google doesn’t count all inbound links equally.

Landing Pages. Building pages that are similar but optimized for different geographies can work. I admit, it’s spammy, but it still works.

What Doesn’t Work

Header Tags (e.g. H1). One of our best sites doesn’t use a single header tag. I’ve been saying for years H1 tags don’t matter, and now finally everyone is saying this, too.

Meta Keywords. This hasn’t worked since the late ‘90s, yet the only sign of SEO I see on almost every site I review is keyword tags.

Submitting URLs to search engines. If you make sure the search engines can navigate through your site, there is no need to submit the pages directly to the search engines. They will find them on their own.

Is An SEO Investment Ever a Bad Idea?

90% of the time when clients ask us about SEO services, it's a no brainer for them to move forward with basic on page SEO tune up. In most of these cases, the website developers completely dropped the SEO ball and the 80/20 rule applies. Simple changes, such as making sure each page has keyword relevant title tags and page content, often results in a dramatic increase in traffic.

My husband always says that if you really understand something, you can easily argue the other side of the issue. In that case, I need to be able to articulate when it's a mistake to move forward with SEO. I can think of at least three scenarios where it might be.

1. Your website stinks. SEO helps get traffic to your site, but if your website is broken, horribly out of date, frightening looking, or otherwise a train wreck, you are better off taking your SEO budget and sinking it into a new site. Website development is more competitive than ever, so it's easy to get a good deal. Try to find a company that throws in basic on page SEO, and you'll kill two birds with one stone.

2. You haven't met a salesperson selling SEO who doesn't give you hives. Since there are no set standards or credentials, anyone can claim he/she is an SEO expert. As a result, there are a lot of people selling SEO services who simply don't know what they are doing. Protect yourself and go with your instincts. If you find someone you like, ask to see examples of first page results he/she has earned for other clients, and check references.

3. There is no keyword volume to support a return on your investment. In very rare cases, there simply aren't a lot of searches for particular types of businesses. Certain medical specialties where all but the most disconnected would seek out referrals come to mind. Make sure you know that there are enough searches for keywords related to your business to justify the investment.

While I remain a big fan of SEO, don't invest unless your website will convert the traffic you get, you've found an SEO vendor you can trust, and you've done the research to confirm that it's likely any SEO investment you make will have a positive ROI.

To Link or Not to Link? That is the Question

Today a prospect told me she went to a seminar on Search Engine Optimization, and that one speaker said building back links was important, while another said it wasn't. Then, she asked me exactly what a back link is, and do they matter?

First of all, a back link is a link from another website to yours. Sometimes, they are also referred to as inbound links. This is different from internal links which are links from one page to another within your own website.

According to current Webmaster resources published by Google, links are still a vital part of the SEO equation. A link counts as a “vote” for a page on your website. All things being equal, Google will put pages with more quality inbound links higher in search results. In fact, this was a key component of their original search patent.

Building links is an ongoing, time consuming process. In theory, Google is looking to reward pages that people link to, because they are truly recommending the content on the page. In practice, a cottage industry has sprouted up to help you generate links quickly. The seminar speaker who cautioned against link building probably meant that you should resist the temptation to go out and “buy” links in bulk from these organizations, or do anything else that would artificially increase the number of links to your site. While I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule, in our experience, most of the links these players secure for you are of dubious quality and sometimes from “bad” neighborhoods, so you are just wasting your money.

The same person then asked, “What is a ‘bad’ neighborhood, and will these links from them actually hurt me?” A “bad” neighborhood is a website that in some way aids and abets the acquisition of artificial links. Some sites have been set up for the exclusive purpose of selling links, while others are directories with little content. Some are sites with lots of content that Google has identified as “content farms,” which are sites with lots of low quality content that are optimized to generate inbound search traffic and then support themselves through Google AdSense or other advertising vehicles. Although there is rumbling that links from “bad” neighborhoods can hurt you, I am not of that opinion. The people at Google are very smart, and know that any competitor can finance an inbound link campaign to ambush a competitor's site. So while I think Google doesn't credit you for links from these dubious sites, I don't think they hurt you either.

The moral of the story is to try and build links, but to do it the right way. First, make sure to claim your online Yellow Pages listings and add a web link. Second, add interesting and relevant content to your website. Third, set up social networking pages and create regular updates that link back to your blog or other content on your website. Fourth, look for linking opportunities from natural business partners that include suppliers, customers, trade associations, and business affiliates.

Long story short, go forth and get links. But do it the right way.

How Search Engines View Subdomains

We've been getting questions about the potential search engine optimization (SEO) impact of putting blogs in a subdomain (e.g. blog.mysite.com) vs. a subfolder (e.g. mysite.com/blog). We've also had questions about how search engines (Google) treat subdomains that are on different IP addresses. Unfortunately, Google doesn't have an official statement about these issues, but here are our latest thoughts on the matter.

 

Subdomains link additional pages on your site.

Years ago, spammers figured out that they could set up subdomains and generate inbound links by linking from pages on the subdomains back to pages on the main domain. Google figured this out and plugged that hole in late 2007. Matt Cutts confirms this change in a blog post in December 2007, which also states that it's a “wash” whether you use folders or subdomains. The original post is here: www.mattcutts.com/blog/subdomains-and-subdirectories.

Of course, this is information from 25 years ago in search engine years, but a modern day test confirms that this still holds true. Look at the first page search results for apartments.com—it's all subdomains. It seems reasonable to conclude those results wouldn't be there if Google thought those pages were part of another site.

 

It's okay if your blog subdomain is located on a server with a different IP address.

The next question to tackle is, is it okay for a blog to be hosted separately from the main website. I was able to find absolutely nothing that directly addresses this from Matt Cutts or any other reliable Google authority. But again, a Google search for ardmorecourtapts.com, for example, supports an educated guess. Results include pages from the blog subdomain even though it is hosted at a different location— Yardi hosts the main site while the blog is hosted on a server run by the community's property management company, Trinity Property Consultants.

It makes sense that Google shouldn't care if you have a blog or any functionality running on a separate subdomain. Platform companies—companies that provide Internet solutions for hundreds or thousands of companies through one code base—can't always keep up with end user demand for new functionality, and sometimes it isn’t practical to deploy a solution on a client server (e.g. online rent payment solutions). Even Google makes use of different subdomains for different parts of its business (e.g. maps.google.com, docs.google.com) and they point to separate IP addresses.

So, if you are looking to add a blog or any other technology, and your goal is to maximize SEO for your website, it seems reasonable to conclude that you can host it on a subdomain and on an outside server. However, if you are looking to maximize overall traffic, it's unclear whether you are better off hosting your blog on a separate domain—but that's for another discussion.

Upcoming Webinar on 1/26: Go Mobile! How to Use Mobile Media for Multifamily

Mark your calendars for "Go Mobile! How to Use Mobile Media for Multifamily," an upcoming webinar sponsored by 4 Walls!

On January 26, 2011, at 2 p.m. Eastern Time (11 a.m. Pacific Time), tune in to learn all about mobile media and how to use it in your business. The webinar will cover the following topics:

  • Mobile marketing essentials
  • The current state of mobile marketing
  • How the mobile web can impact your bottom line
  • How to incorporate mobile media with your current marketing efforts
  • How new devices and apps are changing the leasing experience

Don't miss it! To sign up now, visit www1.gotomeeting.com/register/456715032