Fake Online Reviews Cost 19 SEO Companies and Their Clients Dearly – 5 Tips to Doing Reputation Management Correctly

Yesterday the New York State Attorney General’s Office announced that 19 SEO firms and their online reputation management clients had agreed to pay in excess of $350,000.00 in fines for false advertising and deceptive trade practices by posting fake online reviews on sites such as Yelp, Google Local and CitySearch. The posting of a fake online review was determined to be a form of false and deceptive advertising known as “astroturfing”.

The undercover sting operation, known as “Operation Clean Turf”, revealed that the fake reviews were obtained by paying individuals in Bangladesh, Eastern Europe and the Philippines from between $1 and $10 per fake review.  It was determined that the reviews would be relied on by consumers in making purchasing decisions and thus constituted false advertising and deceptive trade practices.

1. Don’t Post Fake Reviews

While this may seem blatantly obvious in light of Operation Clean Turf, it still must be stated. Any form of online marketing which is deceptive, fraudulent or misleading should be avoided.

2. Engage Disgruntled Customers

In the event that you do have an unhappy customer, attempt to engage that customer directly and offer to make things right.  Offering a refund, or a discount on a future purchase, or an exchange can go a long way towards smoothing things over and getting a customer to change his or her opinion of your business.

3. Approach Site Owners Directly

In the event that negative press appears on a website such as a discussion forum, it never hurts to simply ask the site owner or administrator to have the negative thread removed.  Oftentimes, simply pointing out to the site owner the harm being caused by the post, as well as your efforts to rectify the situation with the unsatisfied customer can result in the removal of the negative information.

4. Encourage Satisfied Customers to Post Reviews

Encourage all of your customers to post reviews of your business.  While nobody can satisfy every customer, presumably you are still in business because you have mostly satisfied customers.  Encourage these customers to review your business online.  Caveat: do not offer customers incentives for posting favorable reviews or provide suggested language.  If you are doing your job as a business owner, the favorable reviews will come.

5. Hire Only Reputable SEO and Reputation Management Firms

Do your research and due diligence before hiring any SEO firm or reputation management agency.  Find out how long they have been in business, ask if they outsource their work offshores, and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions about the specifics of the strategy that they plan to employ on your behalf.  Remember that you get what you pay for, and if it seems fishy or dishonest, move on to the next agency.

What do you think about the posting of fake online reviews?  Do you have any additional suggestions for business owners seeking to enhance their online reputation?

The official press release from the New York State Attorney General’s Office, including a list of the 19 SEO firms and clients involved, can be found at http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-agreement-19-companies-stop-writing-fake-online-reviews-and

By: Matt Foster

SEO and Issues Relating to Page Load Speed

Speedometer

Is Your Site Speed Adequate?

It seems that web design has come full circle. Not too long ago web pages were designed to be compatible with slow dial up modems and needed to load quickly. A good design therefore kept images and code to a minimum so a user could access the page easily over a modem connection. With the advent of broadband connections page speed became less of a concern and developers were more at liberty to create pages with fancy animations, graphics, transitions and effects, all of which required substantial bandwidth due to the image heavy and code heavy requirements of this type of design. But then came mobile, with bandwidth limitations often similar to that of the dial up connections of yesteryear. Google now includes page load speed as a factor in its search rankings and that has received a lot of attention, with many SEOs saying that most sites do not have to worry about it. However, this ignores usability factors such as bounce rate and rate of page abandonment, and little attention has been given to the negative consequences in search rankings to pages with high rates of abandonment.

Google now factors in page load speed as one of its many considerations in determining the quality of a site to be listed in its search results. Google is not too picky about this, however, as only 5% of pages are claimed to be affected by this consideration. So as long as your site is in the top 95% of pages on the web with regards to page load time, the page speed factor will likely not be of consequence to you. A Google Page Speed tool is available online so that you may see how your page stacks up against all the others. The results are given in a score of from 0 to 100, with any score over 5 (representing 5%) considered acceptable.

The fact that only 5% of web pages are affected by the page speed ranking factor has caused many SEO professionals, while acknowledging the existence of page speed as a factor in rankings, to then advise clients that it is not something with which the client should be concerned. This approach, however, ignores other factors relevant to both users and Google itself, and is demonstrative of a tendency within much of the SEO community to focus on only one or a few factors when advising clients as opposed to considering the big picture.

The problem is twofold. First, a page that loads slowly will discourage users from using the page. A large amount of users leaving the page and returning to the search result is knows as the bounce rate or rate of abandonment (the opposite of this is known as stickiness, when a user “sticks” on a site and clicks through multiple pages). Second, Google considers bounce rates and rates of abandonment in its search rankings.

So let’s take the example of a page that scores a 15 on the page speed tool. An untrained SEO provider might state that this is acceptable. However, what this means is that the page in question, while acceptably exceeding Google’s minimum expectations, is still slower than 85% of the web pages out there. The the page is frustratingly slow, Google’s opinion notwithstanding. Now consider the fact that by some estimates over 50% of all search traffic now comes from mobile devices. What do you do when you are on a mobile device and it takes five, ten or twenty seconds to load a page? Most people return to the search results and try again.

The effect of this is that the site owner is losing a large portion of her potential customers. That is a problem. Focusing on rankings only without respect to usability and conversions is a topic for another article. Suffice it to say, however, that if somewhere around 50% of your users are on mobile and are never making it to your site because of your slow page load speed you have a problem.

So the site owner takes an immediate hit in the bottom line as a result of a high abandonment or bounce rate.

Now this is where the snowball effect comes into play. Google also tracks user behavior after the user leaves the search results and lands on a page. If the user bounces off that page, or quickly abandons it by clicking the “Back” button on the browser, then Google knows that. How would you interpret this if you were Google? If a user finds a search result, goes to a page, and then quickly returns, the most logical interpretation is that the page did not offer information relevant to the user’s search query. So Google considers that as Google is in the business of providing relevant results. The slow-to-load page is given a sort of relevance demerit, and its search rankings suffer.

Also consider the fact that Google looks out for nobody but Google. It has obligations to its shareholders. If Google got a reputation for providing results full of slow to load pages, Google users would defect and find an alternative that provided them with speed. Google can’t allow that to happen. To argue the point that page speed is irrelevant to search, or a minor factor in search, is to argue that user behavior is irrelevant to Google’s business model.

So the snowball effect of a page with a low but otherwise acceptable page load speed is this: a slow page load speed will result in higher bounce and abandonment rates. Higher bounce and abandonment rates are interpreted by Google as both (1) a sign that the page is not relevant to the given search query; and (2) a threat to its business model. Therefore, the slow page suffers in the rankings.

By: Matt Foster. Mr. Foster is an SEO consultant and the CEO of ArteWorks SEO in Austin, Texas. Mr. Foster can be found on Twitter @ArteWorks_SEO or on Linked In at /arteworks.

SEO for Parallax

Unimpressed with Parallax SEO?

Unimpressed with Parallax SEO?

Providing SEO for a site utilizing the parallax scrolling effect may at first seem a bit challenging, given the fact that on its face a parallax site does not offer the opportunity for deep links or individually optimized page content. However, there is no need to be unimpressed – there is a solution! Here’s a hint: treat it like a Flash site.

What is a Parallax Site?

The parallax effect is typically achieved using Javascript or JQuery to create a scrolling or 3D effect when jumping between named anchors on a single web page. You can see some examples of sites created using the parallax effect here: http://webdesignledger.com/inspiration/21-examples-of-parallax-scrolling-in-web-design

The navigational scheme is such that when navigating about the site, instead of going from one individual URL to another for each page, one long web page is created, which page contains the entire contents of the site. Named anchors are used to jump or scroll between pages. When the user navigates about the site, instead of a new page loading on the screen, the new page scrolls, slides, or “whooshes” in from above, below, or the side, depending upon where the user is at within the one page site’s content, and to which named anchor the user is navigating.

So a site created using the parallax site is an entire site written as one big, fat, giant web page file, graphics and all. The negative SEO implications of this are obvious, and mainly center around (a) the inability to deep link to individual pages of a site using a unique root-level URL; and (b) the difficulty in optimizing basic on page elements such as title tags for individual page content.

Background

We were contacted by a potential client who owned a children’s entertainment center. Think of something along the lines of laser tag, or a bowling alley, or a pizza arcade, or a go cart track. The client had determined to build the site using the parallax effect, and wanted to rank well in the search engines for a variety of keyphrases pertaining to specific events that might be searched for on Google. For example, the client wanted to rank well for such things as birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, quinceaneras and the like.

Normally this would be accomplished by creating separately optimized pages for each of the specific events (title tags and such), describing the packages available for each event, and deep linking using appropriate anchor text to each of the pages. With the parallax site, this was simply not possible.

The Solution

I began to think of solutions to the problem and I found myself treating the parallax page as akin to a Flash site. There’s not much one can typically do with a Flash site – except one thing. Typically I would advise the owner of a Flash site to create a machine readable HTML version, both for the search engines, but also for purposes of accessibility and for those users who may not have the Flash plugin. This would not be considered duplicate content and would not infringe upon any of Google’s guidelines.

In the case of a parallax site though, there would be a duplicate content problem if we created separate “landing” pages for each of the children’s events, as the landing pages would be duplicative of the event content on the parallax page.

So the solution that I came up with was to organize the site content into two separate types of content: (1) Content important to the user but not likely to be searched for; and (2) Content important to the user and highly likely to be searched for.

Examples of content in the first category, that a user would be unlikely to search for yet which would be important information for the user would be such things as a contact form, maps, photo galleries, catering menu, testimonials, and the like. It is highly unlikely that someone is going to search for “laser tag testimonials”.

Examples of content in the second category, that would be both highly likely to be searched for as well as information useful to the user would be the specific events, like birthdays, bar mitzvahs, and such. People search for things like “laser tag birthdays” or even the more general “Austin birthday parties”.

By defining the schism between the two types of content, we can then begin to organize our SEO strategy and incorporate it into the site build. We decided to use the parallax effect on the home page and on all general information-type pages, such as contact, gallery, menu, testimonials, map, etcetera. We included in the parallax page a section called “Events”.

When the user eventually scrolled his or her way through to the Events page, we presented the user with a list of events typically hosted by the facility. Examples would be those given above, such as birthday parties, team parties, church parties, bar mitzvahs, quinceaneras, and such. Each item on the list was a hard link to an individual URL which contained content specific to that event (keyphrase), including optimized on page elements such as title tags, and customized content appropriate to that event.

The net result is that the user starts off on the parallax site, clicks through to a particular event, and lands on a static, or “hard” page, for that event. When clicking back from the event, onto any of the navigation buttons (Home, Contact, etc.), the user is returned to the parallax page and the scrolling effect can begin anew.

The creation of the “hard” event pages allows for individualized SEO for all necessary on page elements, customized content, and deep linking to the site.

Problem solved!

By: Matt Foster

Matt Foster is the CEO of ArteWorks SEO Austin, an Internet marketing and search engine optimization firm located in beautiful Central Texas. For more information, please visit www.arteworks.biz.

Small or Medium Sized Business: Is Your Website Competitive Enough?

According to a recent study on small and medium-sized business (SMB) websites, nearly 75% don’t include an email link on their homepage for consumers. Furthermore, about 6 in 10 SMB websites don’t include a toll-free or local phone number on their homepage. Furthermore, 93.3% of these sites are not mobile compatible and will not even render successfully on smartphones.

Why is this information so shocking? Small and medium sized businesses are completely missing out on a clear call of action for the user but the chance to market their company effectively. Not only are they missing out on paid opportunities like SEO, social media and blogging, but they are missing the boat on their own websites, which they already pay for. More importantly, with the rise in smart phones and mobile capabilities, these companies are could be missing customers that are literally standing outside of their doors. Small and mid-sized businesses are those with 100 or fewer employees or 100-199 employees, respectively, and these companies are unfortunately overlooking the power of online advertising in quite a few ways. Based on the survey, an additional 65.7% of websites also didn’t contain a form-fill option for consumers to request information or services. All websites should make it easy for the user to request or obtain contact information.

The study was conducted by SMB DigitalScape, who analyzed over one million small and mid-sized businesses around the world in 14 countries, including 700,000 websites in the U.S. Additional findings suggest that many of these sites are not as optimized as they should be, including a deficiency of meta descriptions and title tags, keywords and privacy policies.

One of the best ways to get your site optimized is to hire an Austin search engine optimization company. These companies stay current on the latest SEO trends and can quickly adjust their methods to stay on top of the rankings. While they can’t guarantee a “top ranking,” their techniques are by far the best to get you recognized and have a high probability of having your site ranked in the top of the SERPs. So what if your small business has a limited budget?

Another way to improve your SEO ranking is to be an active participant in multiple social media websites. Unfortunately, a similar study suggested that while 90% of marketing executives use social media, more than half invest less than 10 hours a week on their campaigns. Many SEO companies will offer a full social media campaign, including set-up, graphics and interacting with potential clients and customers. The good thing about SEO and social media is that it’s never too late
to get started, and many SEO companies are willing to create a campaign to fit your marketing budget.

ArteWorks SEO is a full service Austin SEO company who has been active in the search engine optimization business since 1995. For more information or to contact us regarding our services, please visit www.arteworks.biz.

Google Play

Google has become synonymous with innovation. They have been estimated to run over a million servers and process over a billion search requests daily. Anyone who knows technology knows that Google is no longer simply the leading search engine. The company offers email service, document trading, a social networking service and even its own web browser. Google took the lead in the development of the Android mobile operating system, one of the only phones that competes with Apple’s constantly upgrading iPhone.

In true Google form, they’re now paving the way on an entirely new project—Google has taken lead on a new digital entertainment destination where you can keep and share your favorite music, movies, books and apps all in one place. Google Play uses cloud computing to store all your entertainment, so you can access it from anywhere at any time. Cloud computing is also a great way of storing your information because you never have to worry about moving your files or losing them, if anything should happen to your computer.

While developers are thrilled to release Google Play, some wanted to go with the name “Google Market” to stay with the Android Market theme and to more accurately describe some of the features it offers. Their position is that “Play” doesn’t convey the fact that Android has created some very innovative enterprise communication tools, which can all be used in a work setting. Google wanted no confusion between their newest offering and Windows Phone Marketplace, which is why they went with “Play” instead.

Google Play will be featured in Google’s black bar, which will attract many more potential customers than Android could alone. In fact, according to StatCounter’s February data, 27.24 of the Web’s pageviews are viewed in Chrome, compared to the 1.93 percent in Android.

So what exactly can you do with Google Play? You can buy close to any kind of music you’d like, with millions of options, as well as store up to 20,000 songs for free. You’re free to browse one of the world’s largest selections of eBooks, download over 450,000 Android apps and games and even rent some of your favorite movies, all in one place. Google has shown an interest in offering movies for sale, but that portion is still in the works.

For those with Android Market, Google eBookstore or Google Music, these will all become Google Play, and the Android Market app will be upgraded on your phones or tablets in the upcoming weeks. Will this have any affect on page rankings and SEO? As a search engine optimization company, we believe every Google creation will have some kind of affect on our business. While the jury is still out on Google Play, we’ll keep you updated as we learn more.

Matt Foster is the CEO of ArteWorks SEO, a full service Internet marketing firm, who has been active in the SEO industry since 1995. Mr. Foster can be found on Twitter @ArteWorks_SEO. ArteWorks SEO can be found at www.arteworks.biz.

Well SEO is a Bit Difficult

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, SEO and Internet marketing was simple. There was nothing but a blog. No such thing as MySpace or Facebook. It was just a simple search on AltaVista. Way before Google was around.

That was 1995 or so. Things have changed a lot since then.

Now we got all these people and companies and everybody who think they know about it. It is very interesting.

Look you can’t get “ranked”, if that is what you want to do, for a bill a month. And you must understand that things are changing.

Rome Was Not Built In a Day

search engine optimization snake oil

beware of snake oil in seo


Search engine optimization would seem simple to anyone who reads the simpleton items on the Internet. Just follow Google’s rules, read a few things, and then you are now an expert.

Not.

Actually, you are all idiots if you believe everything you read on the Internet. And then you call us, and act as if you know?

Do you really believe that you can build Rome in a day? Do you really believe that you can take over Walmart, Target, Ebay, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and others for the rate of a mere $1000.00 per month? Are you really that stupid?

Start Small

If you have an idea, and wish to get it promoted, think local. Start with your local area. If you have a “brick and mortar” store, have your SEO firm promote that. Get involved in your local community, via social media. By that I mean blogging, social bookmarking, Twitter, and other social media such as Facebook and others, depending upon your specific audience.

Start small, and grow big. Very big.

You Can Do It

Your business can grow, quite easily, if you listen to your SEO advisors. They know more than you about online marketing, and if it is a reputable firm, it will be transparent regarding how it spends your money. So listen with your ears, and hush with your mouth. You would not have called an SEO firm if you knew what you were doing.

Here’s One Way

Don’t call up and say that your brother, or cousin, or ex-wife’s-dead-grandmother’s-buried-husband’s-mistress-child’s-friend-from seventh grade science class who drives a dump trunk and is taking classes online knows shit about SEO. That person does not.

Matt Foster is the CEO of ArteWorks SEO, a full service Internet marketing firm, who has been active in the industry since 1995. Mr. Foster can be found on Twitter @ArteWorks_SEO. ArteWorks SEO can be found at www.arteworks.biz.

Part 2 of 2: Google SEO Starter Guide Recap

Google recently released an updated version of their Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. Part 1 of this 2 part series discussed important on page elements such as title tags, meta descriptions, and url structure. Below you will find more important information from Google’s SEO starter guide.

Quality content and services
While keyphrase density is a myth, there should be rich, unique text content present on the home page, and the text should be relevant to and contain at least one of your desired keyphrases. It tells the search engines what your site is about. People will be more likely to link to you if you provide interesting or informative content. As Google puts it, “organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site’s reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content.”

The trusted “alt” attribute
Do not miss out on opportunities to optimize images. Search engines do not read images so it is your job to tell them what they are looking at when your site is being crawled. The “alt” attribute is also useful if an image doesn’t appear on a user’s browser because the user can read what the missing image is supposed to be. The Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide shares a helpful tip: store images in a single directory and use the most common supported filetypes. This becomes especially important if you use images as links. Image “alt” attributes help you get found in blended search results and should relate to the theme of your page. They are also a good way of helping the search engines ascertain the content of your site, and relevancy to particular keyphrase searches.

Heading Tags
Heading tags, or tags, should be used to highlight keyphrases, they will catch the users’ eyes and should only be used when/where appropriate. They should be used to highlight major themes/keyphrases of each page and should be included at least once on each page.

The importance of a nofollow
Using a rel=nofollow will not bleed any of your site’s page rank. This is very useful for sites or blogs that allow user comments. Linking to bad neighborhoods or having them link to you will hurt your ranking (another reason not to be involved with link exchanges).

Keep in mind that having a fully optimized site is not enough to get you ranked on the first page of Google or other search engines. There is more to it than that. Off page work and leveraging social media is just as important for your SEO strategy. I like how Google puts it, “While most of the links to your site will be gained gradually, as people discover your content through search or other ways and link to it, Google understands that you’d like to let other know about the hard work you’ve put into your content.”

About the Author: Krystle Green is the Vice President of ArteWorks SEO, a full service search engine optimization firm located in Austin, TX. For more information about SEO, SEM, or social media please visit http://www.arteworks.biz.