OverStock Also in Google’s Penalty Box

Google's Penalty Box is Filling UpHow big a data center will Google need to house all the sites they are penalizing? Their Penalty Box sure seems to be growing fast.

It seems we just posted about JC Penny being penalized by Google for black hat link buying conducted by an outsourced SEO firm that violates Google’s long standing position on this method. Shame on that SEO Firm, but we also think JC Penny shows a serious lack of judgement and understanding about the importance of their Web site.

Our respected friends over at SearchEngineWatch.com has posted another in-depth article about Overstocks’s Paid Links at Universities and Colleges.  In some ways, this seems an unfair penalty. The gist of their violation stems from asking the sites to embed links to related Overstock.com product pages, such as “gift baskets” in exchange for offering a 10% discount to their students.

Why was this a violation? OverStock wasn’t penalized because they had a link on a college site saying something like:

“10% discount on gift baskets for all XYZ College students”

While they DID have those links, which are fine, OverStock asked the colleges to go a bit deeper into their site. For instance, there could be an FAQ section for new parents that states “Loneliness is the biggest reason for first year drop outs. Consider sending your child a gift basket near special occasions.” In this case, the link “gift basket” would take a parent to OverStock’s gift basket product page.

Once Google detected this similarity across lots of universities and colleges, they pitched OverStock into the Penalty Box. Another reason why businesses should consider having an SEO in-house expert or outsource they can trust.

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Claim Your Business’s Google Places

I’ve posted previously about the importance of “claiming your Google business listing” on Google Maps. Last year, Google renamed this feature and created Google Places. Well, it is even more important for businesses to claim their Google Place and start improving or adding to the information that Google has chosen to include. This should help your search engine results on Google AND help customers learn about your business from YOU as well.

Claim Your Google Place

We recently added a new client that has been in business for a little over a year. They chose to start their company in a facility that houses other small businesses…which means they all share the same physical street address, except for their Suite number.

This client didn’t show up on Google Maps, even if you keyed in their phone number OR actual address. I was actually surprised they didn’t show up at all. Of course, in this case, Google’s authentication method wouldn’t allow the use of their phone number, because Google hadn’t put the two connections together within their indexing. I had to use the slower post card mail route.

Now, can you imagine the frustration of users today who might be trying to locate your business AFTER arriving close by. Now that they’ve claimed their Google Place, they show up correctly on Google Maps as well.

FREE Google PlacesIf you are a retail establishment that relies on foot traffic/local traffic for your revenue, I cannot stress how important doing this simple, FREE, easy process is for your company. If you need help, give us a call.

YELP CEO responds to class action lawsuit

I’ve been discussing the issue of online reviews, and in particular YELP in several articles this year, such as “no Sheriff in the Wild Wild ‘Net” and more recently about a class action lawsuit against YELP.

YELP’s CEO has responded to the lawsuit with his blog post. It does provide YELP’s perspective and emphasizes that the quality and fairness of the reviews is how they’ve built a large user base. Jeopardizing the integrity of that, he states, would negatively impact the company.

While that may be right, or may have been right before gaining 29 million users, he doesn’t address anything at all about their income and business model, other than referencing “no businesses that advertise on YELP have a perfect reputation”.

But, isn’t that where the issues lies? I suspect those businesses didn’t start off advertising when there were few users and great reviews. I believe the majority of those businesses advertised to get a more favorable review up top above a negative review…that seems to have only occurred after turning down an Ad deal from a YELP sales person.

Of course, I’m only speculating based on the range of multi-page articles I’ve read, several by investigative reporters. I could, of course, be as wrong as the YELP CEO contends all of these reports are wrong.

Why is my site not showing up on Google any more? Is Google Penalizing you?

Google does actually penalize sites that are attempting to use SEO tricks or short-cuts, or don’t abide by their Terms and Conditions. I’m about to briefly discuss and recommend a blog I just read from a Google employee that noticed portions of his site began disappearing a few weeks ago. He did some investigation and found a simple reason why, plus goes about telling how to fix it.

Why is this important to small businesses? The tool he used to figure out what occurred was simply Google’s Webmaster Tools. It’s a free toolbox that Google provides ‘authorized’ webmasters to use on their sites. It’s one of the very first things I setup for my clients…and NONE of my clients, include Web Design Firms and Fortune 500 companies were previously authorized to view that information. (Yes, my head is shaking sadly.) It’s not really their fault (most of them anyway), as business owners can’t know every detail from tax laws to accounting to marketing to sales. BUT, this is becoming more and more important, so my recommendation is to hire a small business marketing professional in the same light as their accountant. Someone they can ask for a quick review and recommendation, some occasional help and periodic conversations on at least a bi-annual basis.

Back to our story… Jason Morrison has several sites hosted with his hosting company. His blog began disappearing from Google search pages and he investigated why. After using Google’s Webmaster Tools he found they had stopped crawling due to tons of crawl errors:

JasonMorrison.Net Google Crawl Stats

Jason's site's Crawl Statistics from Google Webmaster Tools

Simple answer to the problem? He had allocated a certain chunk of his overall monthly bandwidth to his blog…and his readership has grown beyond that limit, so the hosting company drops traffic…which INCLUDED Google’s index bot. Thus, Google thought he had shut down the site and began removing pages from their search results.

My first question? How long would it have taken you to realize YOUR site’s traffic had disappeared from Google’s index? Do you check enough of your site periodically against search engines? Do you check your webmaster tools accounts at least once a month?

Oh…Bing has a webmaster tool as well and if they keep gaining ground, you’ll need to set that up and check it too.

Yelp sued for online reviews

I just noticed a news item on TechCrunch.com that mentions Yelp is being taken to court over their online review & ‘pay to remove’ practice.

On this previous blog post, I mentioned how Yelp, and other online reviews, can be a real challenge for small business owners trying to keep up with all the information overload and online ‘sites’ they have to monitor.

I’ll keep an eye on this case, as many in my part of the industry will do I’m sure, and let my readers know the outcome (though I’m sure it will be several years).

But does Yelp Love us?

But does Yelp Love Us if We Don't Pay?

SMB Online Reviews: Still no Sheriff in the Wild Wild ‘Net

Do you know what your customers are saying about you online?

If you’re like me, you are more frequently searching for businesses or products online…and reading reviews that people have posted about it.

Google Online Reviews

Click on

I started spending hours on Amazon reviews back in the 90’s when I realized you have to somewhat figure out the perspective, and ‘likes’, of the reviewer before you can really make a decision based on it. Matter of fact, I learned that you can only educate yourself better, but not decide anything, if there are only a few reviews.

For several recent years, I’ve accessed Star ratings and associated reviews on Google and Yahoo search engine pages (SERPs). And I’ve actually caught “fake” reviewers on a few businesses that were obviously their competition or an angry ex-employee, once you look at when the account/profile was created, what other reviews they’ve posted (frequently, it’ll only be for that business), unusual misspellings that are common between posters that seem to support each other…and were created on the same day, etc. Further investigation on one I was doing for a client actually drilled down to the same exact person using four fake accounts, something I’m certain happens MUCH MORE than many ‘lay people’ small business owners realize. It’s even rampant on Apple’s App store, especially in the $.99 apps market. (Access the iTunes store on your computer, not phone, and click on reviewers names to see their ‘other reviews’. You may easily notice a pattern that suggests whether this is a paid reviewer because all his reviews are 5 stars and only for apps from the same company. And competitors will be the opposite of that pattern. Seriously, how often do you make an effort to award 5 stars to a company, but have NEVER posted a 1-4 star with a complaint.)

And now…there’s lots of smartphone apps that HELP people review your business right after finding out that last sale item is no longer available. Yelp, Foursquare, Urbanspoon…and really TWITTER is just a big megaphone shouting out how bad your business is to anyone that might ‘hear it’.

Many business owners I talk with haven’t even tried searching on their own company and accessing the reviews. But when they do…that’s when the pain can really set in. Bottom line? Business Owners cannot do anything about negative reviews, except to proactively promote good reviews in various ways.

If you want to know how NOT to handle bad reviews…plus some positive ways you should handle them, read this long Inc Magazine article, “You’ve Been Yelped“.

So, if you’re now thinking you need to take action, what steps should you follow?

I’d start by searching for your business on Google’s, Yahoo’s, Bing’s and Yelp’s sites and review what people are saying online. DO NOT post right away, rather read them all, have a trusted peer or co-worker review them. Consider if valid issues have been resolved, maybe you can email the reviewer and ask them to check back and update the review. Maybe you need to start some type of ‘loyal customer’ campaign where you ask your customers to consider posting positive reviews.

When I last visited my GP, I mentioned to the Dr that they have some people complaining online about the long waits. I suggested he should add wi-fi in the lobby as well as promoting his new appointment system that significantly reduces waiting and really communicating this with signage in his lobby to both reduce waiting times and making it more productive while waiting. If nothing else, it will show he is listening and cares about his customers.

Google adds “Click to Call” on Mobile Adwords

Wow, talk about timing. I don’t think my last blog post about the impressive response percentages to SMS or Text ‘Marketing’ messages had even managed to hit most RSS streams before I saw the below Google announcement on a new “Click to Call” business feature sent to my inbox. While I think overall this is a fantastic opportunity for most retail businesses, I’m not thrilled with the limited flexibility they provide as to how to control whether your business phone number shows or doesn’t show.

However, this additional feature continues to make it more and more important that retail businesses formalize their mobile marketing plans:

Coming Soon: Click-to-Call in Ads on Mobile Devices with Google AdWords

Dear AdWords Advertiser,

We’re pleased to announce that beginning in January, your location-specific business phone number will display alongside your destination url in ads that appear on high-end mobile devices. Users will be able to click-to-call your business just as easily as they click to visit your website. You’ll be charged for clicks to call, same as you are for clicks to visit your website.

How will phone numbers appear in my ads? Based on the customer’s geographic location, the phone number and closest business address will appear as a fifth line of ad text when the ad appears on mobile devices with full HTML browsers (e.g. iPhone, Android, Palm WebOS).

Where will I be able to see the results? At launch, you’ll be able to view calls from your ads on your Campaign Summary page within AdWords from the “click type” segment option under the “Filter and Views” drop down.

How will I be charged for phone calls I get from my ad? The cost of a click to call your business will be the same as the cost of a click to visit your website.

What actions should I take?
If you’d like your ads to show location-specific phone numbers when displayed on mobile devices, make sure that your campaign is targeting iPhones and other mobile devices with full HTML browsers, and that you have included phone numbers with your business addresses in the locations under your Campaign settings. If you would prefer your ads not show phone numbers, simply remove the phone number from the business listings included in your campaigns targeting mobile devices.

We hope this new feature enables you to connect more easily with your potential customers. If you have any questions or feedback, please email us at ctc-feedback@google.com.

Sincerely,

The Google AdWords Team

Google Inc.