Natural Search Blog


How Web 2.0 Affects SEO Strategy

My colleague, P.J. Fusco just wrote a great article over at ClickZ on How Web 2.0 Affects SEO Strategy. In it, she provides a good overview of what’s good and bad about “Web 2.0” stuff, and how some of the technology involved can challenge the goal of natural search optimization of a website. It’s well worth a read if you’re unfamiliar with these issues.

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Acxiom to be Acquired by Private Equity Firms – Marred by Insider Trading

Silver Lake Partners and ValueAct Capital Partners LP will buy out Acxiom Corporation (ACXM) for $ 3 billion. As you may be aware, Acxiom is one of the top yellow pages data aggregaters, assembling a nationwide database of business listings by compiling information they obtain from printed yellow pages books of all the major directory companies.

Acxiom Logo

Unfortunately, Bloomberg reports that a lot of Acxiom options were abruptly and suspiciously traded on May 10th, six days prior to the announcement of the acquisition. The spike in trading in that security was ten times higher than average.

The SEC is now investigating, and it’s probably not going to be hard for them to determine if some employees acted on insider knowledge.

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Google Confirms New Local OneBox Placement in SERPs

I earlier reported that Google SERPs were now showing the “OneBox” containing Google Maps listings embedded throughout the listings in the results pages, not just at the very top any more. Days later, Google has now confirmed this new layout on the new Google LatLong Blog:

You’ve probably heard Google’s big announcement about Universal search. As part of this, when you search for local businesses on Google.com, listings from Google Maps are now blended into the results page. These listings may appear at the top, middle, or bottom of the page based on their relevance compared to the other web results.

Previously we only showed local listings at the top of the results page, and since this was prime real estate, we would not display the listings if we were not certain that you were looking for a local business. Within the Universal search framework, we are now able to more smartly handle ambiguous queries. For example, for the query [san francisco bar] we can now satisfy users who are looking for the website of the Bar Association of San Francisco as well as those looking for a local place to get a drink.

Well, you heard it here, first! 😉

I’ll probably circle back around and comment about Google’s new “Universal Search” later on.

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Superpages Launches LocalServe Affiliate Program

Superpages.comI see that my former company, Idearc Media, finally launched the Superpages LocalServeSM Affiliate Program.

LocalServe was developed by one of the development teams reporting to me during the past year before I left, and it was quietly in beta release up until now.

This is a great way for local info sites and vertical industry-related sites to make money, and the content is perfectly compatible for those niche markets. Superpages has a very rich set of general listings and local search advertisers which can enhance the content of local and vertical sites, while also providing a good revenue stream.

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New Google Analytics UI – A Downgrade

Google Analytics Logo

Google Analytics is updating their user interface and report presentation, and just as I feared, some of it is a downgrade in usefulness. I’ve been using metrics/analytics packages for ages now. At my old company many years ago, I helped set up and use NetGenesis NetAnalysis product to generate reports from our log files. We later used SurfAid and Coremetrics and Omniture. We also built our own, in-house reporting system to supply stats that we couldn’t get via off-the-shelf packages, and I personally programmed some of those and managed other developers who worked on them as well. So, I’m pretty familiar with analytic reporting systems, and I know what’s possible in designing them. I don’t like some of Google’s changes to their service.

Google Analytics has done what I’ve seen so many other analytics companies do: they’ve dumbed down the reporting presentation capability of their service, apparently gearing it primarily toward less-technical marketers and people who run Google ads on their sites or who advertise through Google. The trend with all these analytics companies seems to be to evolve solely towards generating report charts for marketing departments, focusing mainly on conversion statistics and prettified reports that have extracted the ability to easily see quantitative amounts over timeperiods, lulling the brain with pretty colors and obsessing more over slick Ajax/browser interactions than delivering statistical content in a meaningful way.

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Local Guides Beta Launch

Local Matters yesterday announced the launch of their new site, LocalGuides.com, which mashes up Local + Social + Vertical content and utilities. The site is really strong with some compelling features, so I’ve kicked the tires and have a few technical comments.

The press release they sent me contains the following quote from their CEO, Perry Evans:

New Local Guides Beta Launch“Consumers want more involvement with local information. While some progress has been made in a few entertainment categories, the search industry has failed to give consumers useful tools for personalized local information and opinions. LocalGuides.com fills this void by creating a relevant and engaging shared-consumer experience, while also helping local merchants find new ways to connect with their local audience. This is a big part of what has been missing in Local Search.�

The UI is beautifully clean and quite attractive. I can easily imagine that the simplicity and carefully local-oriented design would be readily adopted by users.

The conceptual format, which allows users to build out their personal local guides, is very, very strong. Just clicking into their “Explore Guides” link allows one to view custom local directories created by other users. One for Oxford, Mississippi immediately caught my eye, because it’s located very near where my grandmother used to live, and I’m quite familiar with the small town.

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Bill Gates Predicts Demise of Yellow Pages

Last week at the Microsoft Strategic Account Summit 2007, Bill Gates interacted with Microsoft’s Corporate VP and Chief Media Officer, Joanne Bradford in an interview/Q&A session, and he predicted that among those under 50, yellow pages usage would drop down to zero within five years!

Anti-Yellow-Pages

Now, he was apparently speaking solely about the print yellow pages, but the statement still seemed a tad bit bearish, considering that Microsoft is partnered closely with my former company, Idearc Superpages.com, one of the largest yellow pages companies (print or otherwise) in the world, to license the yellow pages data and service for use in Microsoft’s Live Local Search, and for the MSN Yellow Pages.

Now, Gates isn’t alone in predicting the demise of printed directories, since many others have also foreseen their eventual extinction, including me. But I think that other analysts out there have stated terms more in the ten-year range. Even if the numbers of some directories are declining, I still note that usage and sales are still very strong, so I’d be inclined to expect that print YP will likely go on for longer than five years.

It could be even longer, if there’s some more revolutionary tech introduced, such as I earlier suggested in “Could Nanotechnology Save Print Yellow Pages?

UPDATE: Don Dodge, Director of Business Development for Microsoft’s Emerging Business Team, also posted on his blog about the Summit, and he quoted a Seattle Times report which gave a further quote from Bill Gates about the yellow pages:

The traditional Yellow Pages are doomed as voice-activated Internet searches combined with on-screen interfaces on smart mobile devices get better and proliferate, Gates said. The company’s recent acquisition of voice-technology provider TellMe is accelerating the trend.

Dodge further states:

Microsoft’s recent acquisitions of MotionBridge and Screentonic, coupled with the acquisition of TellMe will support Gates vision of search and advertising on smart phones.

       

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New Layout for Google Local Search Onebox Results

Chris Sherman earlier reported that Google was to begin displaying their OneBox content for news anywhere within the search results page, not just at the top of the organic results as they have been for some time. I’ve just in the last few days run across instances where the OneBox for local keyword searches has been appearing lower down in the page. Check it out:

Google trying new local search layout
(click to enlarge)

This was a search for “San Antonio Sea World”. Read on for another example and comments.

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Google Maps Now Displaying Buildings in 3D

In some major metro areas, Google Maps has quietly begun displaying 3D building wireframes, visible when you’ve zoomed into the more close-up street level views. Here’s the Empire State Building:

3D Google Map of Empire State Building
[Google 3D Map of Empire State Building]

The 3D building shapes are apparently adopted from Google Earth, indicating further possible convergence may be on the horizon between the related Google projects.

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Flickr, why have you screwed up the ALT text?!?

Flickr,
you do a lot that I love – you’re easy to use, and you’ve built-in such elegantly simple and strong features. You’re engineered to function well for SEO, too – your pages are built with spider-friendly URLs, you have multiple link hierarchies, and you allow users to enter in lots of custom text which can allow for optimal TITLEs, H1 text, description captions, user-tagging, and cool geotagging. you even have a fairly cool blog to communicate with your community of users. But, you’ve messed something up this year that irritates the heck out of me:

Flickr’s ALT text is blank on the image pages!

Yes, it’s true – on each image’s main page, the image has nothing in the ALT portion of the image:

Holly Hill House

<img src=”http://farm1.static.flickr.com/36/112354736_1de2bc367c.jpg?v=0″ alt=”” width=”500″ height=”375″ onload=”show_notes_initially();” class=”reflect”>

I’m pretty sure that your ALT text was working in the past, but at some point, one of your developers made it so that the image’s custom title text no longer gets populated into the IMG ALT parameter, reducing one of the prime signals that inform search engines as to what keywords apply to an image.

Search engines aren’t the only ones that use that ALT text — it’s also important for the vision-impaired who surf the internet using “talking browsers”. Yeah, yeah — I know — why would the vision-impaired be surfing Flickr to begin with? Well, they can run across the pages when searching for various types of information, just like everyone else.

Please, please, Flickr: fix your ALT text!

Yours truly,
A Devoted Fan

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