A Smattering of SEO News: 11/6/14

Hello folks, and welcome to another Smattering. November has barely started and already we have some whoppers for you, such as Matt Cutts extending his personal leave to 2015! What? Read on for more!

 

Google News:

  • Penguin 3.0 Still Rolling Out Nearly Three Weeks After Release – While the folks at Google initially said that the rollout of Penguin 3.0 might take a couple of weeks, Google’s John Mueller revealed in a recent Hangout that it’s still being rolled out – almost three weeks after its release! This means those not yet affected by this algorithm could still see fluctuations, so keep an eye on your rankings and Webmaster Tools in the days to come.
  • Matt Cutts Extends Personal Leave to 2015 – Google’s ubiquitous Spam Team leader, Matt Cutts, recently announced on his blog and Twitter that he’s extending his leave of absence to 2015. Apparently he’s happy with how the Team has been doing without him, which is cool.

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  • Victims Of Panda Don’t Necessarily Need To Delete Old Blog Posts, According To Google – In another recent Hangout, Google’s John Mueller was asked if older, barely-read blog posts should be taken down to assist in removing a Google penalty. While Mueller was somewhat noncommittal on how to proceed, he basically said that older, low-quality posts might deserve to be noindexed or deleted, but if they’re relevant they can likely be left alone.
  • Google: Duplicate URLs In A Disallow File Are Fine – Wow, John Mueller has been busy this week! In response to a question posted on Twitter, in which the person asking wondered if duplicate URLs in a disallow file could cause problems, John stated simply that “duplicates don’t cause problems.” This should make submitting large strings of URLs a bit easier to deal with.
  • Google Launches Embedded Customer Surveys – A new kind of paywall (yet it’s not really a paywall) has been launched by Google called Embedded Customer Surveys. These are are surveys that users need to fill out in order to access your site, and you get money for each question answered. This might be easier for some folks to swallow than an actual subscription, which are typical of paywalls, and site owners currently get five cents for every answer Google receives. It’s kind of a win-win really, as Google gets even more data about people, and site owners get a slice of the pie.

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Other News:

  • Massive Microsoft Restructuring Results In Loss Of Top Bing Positions – Duane Forrester — the head SEO at Microsoft’s Bing division — announced that due to a massive restructuring effort at Microsoft, several top positions at Bing (including his) have been eliminated. With one of Microsoft’s biggest advocates of SEO, along with several of his fellow experienced employees, now gone from Bing, it will be interesting to see how the still-struggling search engine is affected.

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Seven Strategies for Survival in a Post-Pigeon World

Unlike other alliterative algorithm updates (Panda, Penguin, Payday Loan…), Google Pigeon doesn’t necessarily crack down on low-quality sites and deceptive practices.  Rather, Google seems to have simply reassessed their stance on the ideal local search experience, and what makes a site relevant in the local space.

As a result, businesses may find that tried-and-true strategies no longer guarantee local visibility in the SERPs. Your website may consistently promote accurate, high-quality information through transparent and honest means; however, if you skipped specific local search strategies, you probably saw rankings disappear overnight.

So what now? Take a deep breath and give your local search plan a once over. Here are seven simple strategies for getting your business back on track in a post-Pigeon world.

 

1. Get The Lay Of The Land

Just how much was your site affected by Pigeon? Take some time to determine the extent to which your rankings or traffic changed. Local rankings fluctuated significantly following the algorithm update, particularly because Google A/B tested multiple versions of Pigeon on various data centers. As such, brief spot checks here and there in August most likely did not provide an accurate overview of your site’s standings.

If you’re lucky, you set up local rank tracking for both classic and local pack results prior to Pigeon, but if you didn’t, don’t sweat. Here’s a quick trick for gauging impact:

  • Log in to your Google Analytics account, visit the “Geo-Location” section under “Audience” and segment your data for “Organic Traffic” only. 
  • Compare the period prior to Google Pigeon (before July 24, 2014) with the period directly following. 
  • Focus your analysis on the cities and/or metro area(s) where you have one or more business locations.   

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How much did your organic traffic decline or improve in relevant locations? While correlation doesn’t imply causation, an analysis of your period-over-period organic traffic in relevant cities and metropolitan areas can provide insight into whether your local positioning changed significantly.

Stay up-to-date on your local rankings moving forward by setting up local rank tracking. I recommend using a tool that provides local pack rankings as well as classic results, such as Whitespark’s Local Rank Tracker or BrightEdge.

 

2. Reassess Your Keyword List

Are you optimizing for the right local terms? Are you tracking the right terms locally? Take a second look at your keyword list and make sure that you’re targeting and measuring high local search volume terms both with and without local modifiers. And keep in mind that the local radius for results was reduced notably post-Pigeon; consider targeting smaller local neighborhoods in addition to nearby metropolises.

Google AdWords’ Keyword Planner is a great, basic solution for measuring local search volume. Access the Keyword Planner using any Google account and follow these steps:

  • Type in your term with and without your location included, (ex. “advertising agencies los angeles” and “advertising agencies”). Include as many variations of your targeted terms with local modifiers as possible in order to better gauge the most frequently utilized keyword/location combination.
  • Enter your city under “Targeting”  (ex. Los Angeles).
  • Click “Get Ideas.”
  • Select the “Keyword Ideas” tab.

Google’s average monthly search data for your targeted region will provide insight into whether local users are more likely to specify a city (“los angeles advertising agencies”), or trust Google to deliver relevant local results (“advertising agencies”).

Remember, whether you target “advertising agencies in los angeles” or simply “advertising agencies” in Los Angeles, always reference your city and relevant service areas in your on-page content and meta data. The results of your keyword research will influence phrasing and exact match strategy, but your landing pages should provide local context regardless.

Lastly, when you set up local keyword tracking, make sure you track for both types of terms, as results can often vary significantly.

Example:

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3. Go Back To The Basics

It’s true that local SEO has its own set of strategies. The rollout of Pigeon, however, made Google’s local algorithm more “traditional” than ever with a drastic reduction in local pack results, particularly for specific industries. Classic ranking factors such as title tags, headers, and site architecture now hold more weight for local rankings. Subsequently, many websites that achieved strategic local positions solely based on NAP (name, address, and phone number) information and Google Places listings have suffered organically post-Pigeon.

The moral of the story: do some basic SEO housekeeping. Make sure your site has strong, relevant meta data and a strategic structure, and assess your backlink profile for quality as well as new linking opportunities.

 

4. Beef Up Your Local Content

This is another oldie, but goodie. Increase your content sitewide, focusing first and foremost on priority pages such as your homepage, top-level navigation, and location landing pages. Try to aim for 300 – 500 words of high-quality copy, with sections devoted to helping both users and search engines understand your specific business location(s). If relevant, discuss nearby neighborhoods, service areas and notable landmarks, but be careful not to geo-stuff, as recent studies suggest that optimizing for too many areas can prove more harmful than helpful—one to three relevant areas seems to be the sweet spot.

 

5. Embrace Google My Business

If you haven’t claimed, verified, or optimized your Google My Business listings and pages (previously known as Google Places/Google+ Local respectively), start now. It’s no surprise that a complete optimization of this Google platform can only help your local organic standing. And when I say “complete,” I mean complete. Don’t ignore that pesky “Your profile is 90% complete!” message—if your page requires photos in order for Google to consider it comprehensive, upload those photos!  Promote your business eloquently and accurately in your description/Story, tag all relevant Google approved Categories (up to 5), and post regularly and relevantly to engage and increase your G+ following.

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If you’re starting from scratch and have fewer than 10 locations, claim and verify your listings manually through a Google phone call or postcard to your specific location (must use local phone number or address featured in listing). If you have more than 10 locations, you can verify in bulk with Google’s “My Business Locations” dashboard. Make sure that the NAP information that you enter matches what’s featured on your website exactly.  Small discrepancies such as the use of “Suite 3” in one instance and “#3” in another can create uncertainty and hurt your local ranking potential.

And for those who already own and manage Google My Business listings, take the time to perform a comprehensive audit of your listings to ensure exact information matches.

 

6. Get Serious About Structured Citations

First, let’s translate the technical jargon—structured citations are references to a business’s name, address, and phone number on online directories, such as Superpages.com, YellowPages.com, and Yelp. Structured citations may or may not link directly to your site. Ensuring the accuracy, consistency, and quality of your structured citations will help demonstrate relevancy as well as authority in targeted local markets. To manage your structured citations effectively, I recommend engaging a citation management service.

There are a lot of citation management services out there (Moz Local, Yext, Whitespark, Bright Local, etc.), and while I won’t use this post to debate the merits and shortcomings of each, I will urge readers to choose one and get serious about their structured citations.

As previously mentioned in regards to Google My Business data, inaccurate and inconsistently represented listing information can cause confusion for both users and search engine spiders. Ensure uniformity across the board by either submitting correct data to the top data aggregators (Infogroup, Localeze, Acxiom, and Factual) or optimizing and “locking-in” listings on individual online directories with a service such as Yext.

Attempting to manually update individual listings without the support of one of these services can prove a tedious and potentially fruitless effort, as inaccurate information elsewhere can cause listings to change after optimizations.

 

7. Know Your Neighbors

Lastly, get to know your local online neighbors, particularly those that like to talk about your industry. Unstructured citations—online references to a business’s name and address, name and phone number, or the whole NAP trifecta—are another little known local search ranking factor. Generate unstructured citations by encouraging positive, branded conversations on online news sources, event pages, blogs and social networks. Keep in mind that unstructured citations do not require actual links!

So how do you engage relevant bloggers, journalists, and local users? Check out your Twitter followers and Facebook friends. Someone who has already demonstrated his or her brand interest online is that much more likely to welcome a relationship and the suggestion of a shout-out.

Google’s methods for determining valuable local results have evolved, becoming more sophisticated than ever. In order to succeed, your local search strategies must adapt as well. Commit to a comprehensive, strategic local SEO campaign—and prove to Google your local relevancy and value.

Have strategies or considerations to add?  Bombard me with comments below!

A Smattering of SEO News: 10/30/14

With what a hectic and volatile month October has been, it’s a surprise there hasn’t been an algorithm update over the last week! Regardless, we have some good tidbits today to cap up the month. Let’s hope November is a bit more stable. ;) Now let’s get to it.

Google News:

  • Mobile Usability Tracking Comes To Webmaster Tools – The folks at Google havegoogle-logo-blue-1920-800x450 announced a new tool in their ongoing campaign to make mobile sites easier to implement and diagnose. Their new Mobile Usability tool in Webmaster Tools tells webmasters and site owners how many pages have certain mobile-specific rendering problems (such as touch elements being too close, small font sizes, and content missized to the viewport). This should be one more way site owners can make sure their site is as mobile friendly as possible.
  • Webmaster Guidelines Updated To Cover JavaScript And CSS Blocking – This has come up before here and there in our previous Smatterings, but now Google is kinda making it official. They’ve specifically updated their webmaster guidelines to say: “Disallowing crawling of Javascript or CSS files in your site’s robots.txt directly harms how well our algorithms render and index your content and can result in suboptimal rankings.” They then go on to give new advice on how to optimally allow your CSS and JavaScript to be crawled, including minifying files and other tidbits. It’s a bit technical, but very useful, so I suggest you check it out.
  • Google Gives Ability To Remove Sitelinks Search Entirely – Recently, Google added Firefox Mobilethe ability to add a sitelinks search box to your search results. By simply adding some code to your site you can fully support the feature. Now Google is, interestingly enough, giving you the choice to disable it entirely by using a new meta tag called “nositelinkssearchbox”. This is fascinating because it’s rare Google gives one the ability to disable a feature of theirs once they’ve launched it.
  • YouTube CEO: 50% Of Traffic Now Coming From Phones And Tablets – Furtheryoutube proving that mobile is becoming an insanely dominant force not just in search, but in general Internet usage, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki confirmed that now half of all YouTube traffic is coming from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. She went on to say that she feels mobile is important to every business right now, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, really, but it’s still fascinating to read regardless.

Other News:

  • Twitter And IBM Team Up To Bring Businesses More Data Insight Into Customers – Twitter and IBM have announced a partnership in which they’ll combine the real-time data collecting of Twitter with the analytics and consulting expertise of IBM to help businesses make better strategic decisions. It’s something of a fascinating prospect, as Twitter must have veritable mountains of data on its users, collected in real-time, while IBM is simply a juggernaut when it comes to business analytics. It’ll be interesting to see how welcomed this partnership is, and how many businesses will take advantage of it.

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  • Bing Allows Search By Emoji – Apparently Bing has updated their search capabilities to recognize emojis (you know, those cute little icons we text to people, such as cats, flags, faces. etc.). For example, you can now use a French flag and a place to search for airline ticket prices for France. No lie. Put up a little screaming emoji, and Bing will return results on The Scream by Edvard Munch. This is oddly fascinating, truth be told. I tried searching using an emoji face sticking out its tongue, and it led me right to results about what that face means in our culture. Again, fascinating.

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  • TomTom And deCarta Ally To Take On Google Maps – Personal GPS device maker TomTom has teamed up with local search company deCarta to provide a product which they hope will take on Google Maps in terms of search flexibility, integration, and usability. Their new product will allegedly offer some improvements over Google Maps, such as flexibility in licensing, control over navigational data, and much more. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the mobile market, where undoubtedly most people use Google Maps to navigate and search for local results.

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Client Infographic: Door Store America

It’s almost Halloween, so it’s time for a special infographic from Door Store America about the Winchester Mystery House! Have you ever heard about Sarah Winchester, the heiress to $20,000,000 of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company? Get ready to learn all the creepy facts about the house and why its construction could never be finished!

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Get all the chilling details about Sarah’s deteriorating mental state, and about her haunting, from the infographic!

A Smattering of SEO News: 10/24/14

Howdy folks, and welcome to another Smattering! October is rolling along like a juggernaut for SEO news, and this week is no exception! We experienced not only one, but TWO algorithm updates within the last week. Read on to check it out.

Google News:

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  • Penguin 3.0 Released – Google has released the first update to the Penguin algorithm in over a year. Last Friday, Google confirmed that their update — which should affect around 1% of queries, they say — has gone live. Many webmasters are noticing significant changes in their rankings, both good and bad. Google is calling this update a “refresh,” meaning that it’s meant to help hurt sites that took steps to correct their issues recover from the last update. We’ll bring you more information as we have it.
  • Google: For The Best Crawling Possible, Use Both An XML Sitemap And An RSS Feed – Google recently released a set of best practices for XML sitemaps and RSS/Atom feeds to help webmasters and site owners get their site crawled as efficiently as possible. While an XML sitemap has always been important for Google to fully understand your website, we’ve now learned that an RSS/Atom feed is useful in helping Google determine which pages were most recently updated. There are also tips that refer to only using canonical URLs and URLs that Googlebot can fetch. It’s interesting stuff, and it makes me happy to see RSS feeds used for something so important (I kinda love RSS feeds).
  • Google Announces Update To Pirate Algorithm – Back in 2012, Google released a little algorithm that was meant to devalue and penalize sites that were determined to violate copyright laws. In the wake of increasing criticism that Google is doing very little to fight piracy, they’ve announced an update to this algorithm for the first time in two years. As this algorithm hopes to filter out sites with pirated content, it will be interesting to see how many new sites will be affected by this update.

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  • Google And Stephen Colbert Take Potshots At Each Other – Recently, comedian Stephen Colbert took Google to task for incorrectly listing his height as five feet ten inches. Colbert obviously took this as a personal affront on his five foot, eleven-inched self. Google responded by updating the height they have for Colbert in their results to five feet, ten and a half inches, or “1.79m -ish,” which I personally found hilarious. The Colbert Report seems to be off this week, so I’ve not yet seen a rejoinder from Colbert, but I’m definitely hoping he makes one.

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Other News:

  • Yahoo’s Q3 Results Had An Interesting Surprise – While Yahoo’s third quarter results were fairly modest ($1.094 billion in revenue, up 1% from a year ago), the most interesting tidbit was the shocking mobile revenue numbers. Yahoo said that in this quarter alone their mobile revenue exceeded $200MM, and is “now material” to their success. It will be fascinating to see if growth continues in their mobile sector.

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  • Study: More Businesses Opting To Upload Videos To Facebook Rather Than YouTube – According to a study released by Socialbakers, by the end of the year more businesses will be posting their videos directly to Facebook than YouTube, bypassing Google’s video platform entirely. This is from a study of 180,000 video posts from 20,000 pages, which showed that there was a significant rise in marketing videos being uploaded directly to Facebook. The study also showed that during the same time period, YouTube posts were relatively flat by comparison. If the trend continues, Facebook will be getting more videos from businesses than YouTube. When you couple this with recent news that more people watch videos on Facebook than YouTube, you have to wonder how this is going to play out.

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A Smattering of SEO News: 10/16/14

Hey folks, welcome to another week of SEO news! It’s a slightly quiet week this time around, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless, so let’s get to it!

Google News:

  • Google: Amazon Is Our Biggest Search Rival – A speech given in Berlin given by Google’s Eric Schmidt admitted that it’s neither Bing nor Yahoo that pose the biggest threat to their search dominance, but rather Amazon. Schmidt went on to say that while most folks don’t think of Amazon as search, many people default to it now when search for products to buy, or want to find reviews that focus on specific products. Even though they’re more commerce focused than Google, the fact that many people default to Amazon when searching for products – myself included – has to be a serious thorn in Google’s side.
  • Voice Search Used Mostly To Call Someone Or Ask For Directions – Google hasgoogle-voice-search released an interesting Infographic that gives details on what and when adults and teens use voice search the most. For teens, voice search is used most for calling someone or asking for directions, while for adults, it’s mostly used for getting directions or dictating texts (likely while driving, which makes sense). Interestingly enough, both groups use voice search most while watching TV, while a surprising number of both use voice search while in the bathroom.
  • Google (Also Yahoo And Microsoft) Criticized By FTC For “Deceptive” Search Ads – Apparently in 2002, the FTC began issuing guidelines that recommended how search engines could clearly differentiate search ads from the rest of the organic search results. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that within the last year, the FTC has begun warning search engines that they’ve seen a decline in compliance with these guidelines, including using the word “Sponsored” rather than “Ad,” which the FTC recommends. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of this, if anything.
  • Conversational Search Gets An Upgrade – One of Google Voice Search’s most awesome features is its conversational search, which allows you to have something close to a conversation with Google in order to find what you need. Google recently updated this to help with more things like restaurant reservations and directions. For example, you can now ask Google to find a specific type of restaurant in a specific area, then ask to make a reservation at the one of your choosing – and it will if that restaurant uses OpenTable – then help you find a bar nearby to hang out beforehand while also providing directions to it. I’ve not tried this yet, but I plan to soon, as it sounds awesome.

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Other News:

  • Facebook Now Serves More Video Views Per Month Than YouTube – According tofacebook-youtube ComScore, Facebook has been getting more eyes on their videos than YouTube. There was a jump from four billion views in July to twelve billion in August, while YouTube had “only” around eleven billion views during the same timeframe. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.
  • Informal Survey: Many SEO Professionals Concerned About Negative SEO Extortion – An informal survey done on Search Engine Roundtable asked SEO professionals whether they found negative SEO extortion emails – which threatened websites with poor quality backlinks – to be worrisome. 51% of respondents replied positively (31% flat out said “yes”, 22% said “a little”), while a significant amount (38%) said they weren’t worried.

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Client Infographic: Pelican Water

Do you know how much water you are supposed to consume daily? Did you know that amount of water is different based on your gender? Staying fully hydrated can affect every part of your body, which makes sense once you realize that our bodies are 60% water. That’s more than half! Pelican Water‘s new Infographic has even more interesting facts about the impact dehydration can have on your body as well as why it’s so important to stay hydrated.

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Check out the entire Infographic to learn more about how proper hydration can positively impact your body!

Client Infographic: Mimeo.com

Training in the digital age has become a particularly exciting and tricky endeavor. In this current day and age, there are an unprecedented amount of resources that can be incorporated into training sessions. But just having those resources is not enough. Mimeo.com has a new Infographic that outlines the dos and don’ts for digital training, as well as tips on how to keep students engaged in the learning process.

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Be sure to check out Mimeo.com’s entire Infographic to learn more about digital training!

A Smattering of SEO News: 10/9/14

Hello folks, and welcome to another weekly Smattering of SEO News! This month sure is shaping up to be a rocky one: we’ve got the ongoing rollout of the latest Panda algorithm, along with an apparently imminent launch of an updated Penguin algorithm as well. Take a gander as to what’s going on below, and good luck! ;)

 

Google News:

  • Panda 4.1 Still Rolling Out According To Google – When Google launched Panda 4.1 late last month, they informed us this would be a slow roll out, and they weren’t kidding. A week after that, Google said it was still rolling out, causing some to speculate whether a new update was happening or something else along those lines. Webmasters are still reporting fluctuations in their traffic, so it will be interesting to see where sites fall when the dust finally settles.
  • Penguin 3.0 May Be Imminent – Last week at SMX East, Google’s Gary Illyesgoogle-penguin announced that – based on internal communications a few weeks ago – the search giant could launch their next Penguin update in “a few weeks” (which would ultimately be this week). While not set in stone, this news, along with the slow Panda rollout, could mean some interesting times for those of us with websites to monitor. We’ll keep you updated if we find out anything further.
  • Google Implies Mobile Usability Might be A Ranking Factor – Also from Mr. Illyes at SMX East last week, there was a lot of talk of usability, especially in the mobile space. He said that Google wants to provide a “great user experience on any device,” and will be pushing to make sure that sites showing up in their search results will reflect this principle. While mobile user experience has been of increasing importance as more searchers are using smartphones and tablets, this is the first time I can recall it being mentioned as a possible ranking factor, and personally, I welcome it.
  • Google Toolbar Page Rank Likely No Longer Being Updated – In a recent Google Hangout, Google’s John Mueller responded to a question about when the next Page Rank update might be – it’s been ten months at this point. He said there isn’t likely to be an updated toolbar for Page Rank display going forward. While the value of Page Rank has been questioned over the last several years, this is still an important metric to lose.
  • Google Says Google+ Thriving, Won’t Release Numbers – David Besbris, Google’s google-plus-logohead of all things social, recently said that Google+ is “alive and thriving” for those who love privacy and top-notch photo tools (they actually are pretty nice). However, it’s been almost a year since Google released usage numbers for their fledgeling social network. One wonders how alive the social network actually is…

 

Other News:

  • “Dwell Time” A Better Metric Than Clickthrough Rate, According To Yahoo Labs – The folks at Yahoo Labs released a paper that finds time spent on content items – what they’re calling “dwell time” – is a far better metric to measure useryahoo-logo engagement and interest rather than the tried -and-(maybe)-true clickthrough rate. Yahoo apparently adjusted their algorithm to optimize for dwell time rather than clicks, and they saw gains in both across the board. It’s pretty fascinating stuff if you want to dive in. Check out Yahoo Labs’ post on the topic for more insight.

Client Infographic: Telx

Cloud storage and hosting are slowly becoming more and more important in today’s workspace. To get an idea of how much demand is being placed on cloud storage, Telx has created a new Infographic on Data Centers. Find out about the largest data center in the world, located right here in the United States!

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Check out the entire Infographic to learn all about The Network Of Data Centers!