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Seeing Stars in the SERPs – Rich Snippets and Structured Markup

We’re all used to seeing star ratings in the SERPs for things like movies (IMDB/Rotten Tomatoes), products (Amazon) and restaurants (Yelp). Over the past month or so, I’ve noticed them appearing alongside listings/rich snippets in the organic search results for regular websites and blog posts.

Stars in the SERPs for Catalyst eMarketing

This seemed out of place to me, so I did some research.

As it turns out, it’s pretty simple to get a star rating in the SERPs for any old run-of-the-mill page. I used the following format to add a “review” to the homepage of johnvantine.com.


<div class="hreview">
<span class="reviewer">Name of reviewer</span>
<span class="dtreviewed" title="YYYY-MM-DD">Date of review</span>
<span class="summary">Review summary</span>
<span class="description">Review body</span>
<span class="rating">Numerical rating (from 1-5)</span>
<&#47div>

The review is not fake, mind you! It was written by Ryan Farrell. Anyway, I added the review to the homepage on Wednesday. I checked the SERPs on Thursday morning, and the star rating was showing up along with my listing.

Star ratings for johnvantine.com

At the time of this writing, it still is. You’ll also notice that my meta description is being truncated – normally the full description (157 characters) is displayed, but since the star rating showed up, it’s being cut off at 139 characters. The addition of “3 days ago” is probably causing this.

How is this done? In the above example, the hReview microformat was used. hReview is just one part of the Microformats standard. Microformats are used to help search engines understand what they’re looking at. When they’re added to a site, it will still appear normally to human users, but “behind the scenes” a sort of framework is established that tells the search engine explicitly what different types of data are: “this is the street address of my business. This is the city name, and this is the telephone number.” The search engines can then use this information in various ways which can be beneficial to the publisher.

The hReview microformat is made up of properties found commonly on product review sites – things like reviewer name, date of review, rating (from 1.0-5.10), description, etc.

Anyway, I think it goes without saying that the potential for abuse exists. To take this one step further, some sites are using (abusing?) this structured markup to show “double star ratings” in the SERPs:

2 sets of star ratings for indianapolis plumber

In the example above, Google displays the star rating from the Google Places listing in addition to their hReview rating. In my opinion, this is taking it a little too far. I’d call this “pushing your luck”, and I can’t imagine that it will last for too long.

The mere presence of these star ratings next to your listing in the SERPs makes it stand out to a searcher, and I’d imagine it has a positive impact on your CTR. If you have a 4 or 5 star rating and hundreds of reviews, you’ve got a pretty serious advantage over the competition, who now look slightly boring in comparison.

If you’re running a site that utilizes reviews, especially any sort of ecommerce site, I’d urge you to get on the ball and add structured markup to your HTML with Microformats.org or Schema.org. Do some research! If you’re running WordPress, there are plugins available that’ll do it for you!

Also, there’s no need to wait for the spiders to crawl your site in order to see how the rich snippet appears – you can get an instant preview by using the Rich Snippets Testing Tool in Webmaster Tools.

Addendum: For the record, Schema.org seems to be the format that Google prefers (see here), but I went with microformats because it was being used in the first example of star ratings on regular sites in the SERPs that I encountered. If you’re new to rich snippets, check out this helpful visual guide written by Selena Narayanasamy.

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How To Set Up Google Analytics

If you have a website, chances are you’d like to know a little more about the visitors frequenting your site. Tracking this information is especially important if you are a business that sells and advertises online, but it is equally important for people who want to have insights into how long people are staying on their site and which sections of the site are drawing them in.

Using an analytics tool, like Google Analytics can provide a wealth of information about your website traffic. It can track and provide reports on everything from your advertising return on investment (ROI), to tracking visits from mobile websites and apps, to honing in on specific demographic markets. The best part is that setting up a Google Analytics account is free.

Setting up Google Analytics for your website is fairly straightforward. First, you need to make sure that you have a Google account. Once you have your account set up, go to Google Analytics and select “Sign Up Now” in blue in the top right-hand corner of the page.

Once you set up your Google Analytics account, you’re going to be asked to set up a profile for the website(s) you want to track. You’ll be prompted to put in the website URL, the account name and the country and time zone you are in. Once you’ve created a profile, Google will provide you with a tracking code. This tracking code needs to be copied and pasted into the code of each of the web pages within the domain name that you want to track. If your pages are in a template format, you can paste the code into the header or footer and it will track each page accordingly.

In Google Analytics you have the option to create a master profile for each domain name. You can then add filters to exclude tracking on specific webpages. You can also share analytics reports with others. If you have multiple domains to track, you’ll want to set up each as its own website profile.

Depending on which content management site you use, there may be a plugin to insert the tracking information. If you have a WordPress site for instance, there is a plugin that may ask you for the Web Property ID. Google Analytics will provide the ID when it supplies you with the tracking codes. When all of the tracking has been set up, you can begin viewing your stats.Within Google Analytics, you can customize your reports and see information about which keywords are bringing you the most traffic, the demographic and geographic details of your visitors and your most visited web pages. This information can give you key insights to your website’s performance and can be a powerful tool in creating new strategies for future business growth.

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How To Advertise On Google

It doesn’t matter if you are a small local business with one brick and mortar store or an e-commerce site that sells to people around the world. Advertising is one of the primary ways to get the word out about your business. Advertising is changing rapidly as technology evolves and more and more people are going online and to their mobile devices to find information about products and services. So adding digital advertising to your marketing campaign is a must.

Google is one of the largest display ad networks in the United States. According to recent statistics from ComScore, Google’s ad display network reaches 89% of customers through a variety of websites, games, and videos.

So, how do you go about advertising on Google? First we’ll talk about a free opportunity available to businesses that can help get your name out without taking any green out of your pocket. It’s called Google Places. Google Places allows businesses to claim their business listing, add their address, a map, business description, business hours and even photos and video about their business. The best part… it’s free.

There are a few different options when you decide you are ready to start paying for advertising on Google. Being one of the largest online ad networks, Google has made it pretty simple to figure out how to advertise on their site, as well as display, mobile and video advertising.

You will need a Google account to start with, and then go to the Google Ads webpage. There you will be presented with two different advertising options: AdWords Express and original AdWords.

Google launched AdWords Express last summer as a way to provide small businesses who might not be familiar with online advertising a way to set up managed advertising campaigns in as little as five minutes. It’s great for community-based businesses that want to connect with locals through the web or in person but don’t want to spend time managing an online campaign. When using AdWords Express, Google manages your ads for you. Everything from figuring out your keywords to where your ads will be placed. Users decide how much they want to spend based on a maximum daily budget, and they are only charged when someone clicks on their ad.

If you’re familiar with online advertising, your business is online or you serve a national customer base, Google’s original AdWords platform is probably more suited to your needs. Google provides all of the tools and reports you need to set up your advertising campaign and stay up to date on it’s progress. With AdWords, you also have the option to showcase your ads in additional formats, like video and mobile. Through AdWords, individuals manage their own accounts and determine their advertising budget by bidding on their keywords. To set up AdWords, click here and simple follow Google’s step-by-step instructions.

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How To Get Your Business On Google+

You’re a small business owner and we know you have a lot on your plate. Everyone has hammered into your head the fact that your business not only needs to have a website, it also needs a Facebook page and a Twitter account. You took the time to create them. Your business’ social media needs are all taken care of, right?

Not so fast. If you haven’t set up your business’ Google+ profile, you could be missing out on huge benefits, particularly when it comes to search engine rankings and getting your brand to the online world.

With Google holding the lion’s share of Internet search traffic, setting up a Google+ profile for your business is another way to give your business a competitive edge.

The good news is that Google+ is still in beta and most small businesses may not even be aware that it exists. That means you can get a jump on your competition and start gaining followers, improving your search rankings and dominate your industry.

Have we sold you? Lets move on to the important part: How to set up your business on Google+. We know that some of you are visual learners and some of you like to digest your information in bulleted paragraphs. No matter which type of learner you are, we’ve got you covered. In addition to the usual step-by-step how to’s listed below, we’ve also compiled the basics in a handy video. Choose your own learning adventure.

Step 1: The first thing you need to create a Google+ page is to set up a personal profile on Google. If you have a Google Gmail account you can use that, or you can set up a new one.

Step 2: Once you have an account with Google, you can then start creating your Google+ business page here. Creating your page is simple and straightforward. Google has a template page where you can upload your business logo, add an About Section, post photos and videos. You can also link to relevant websites. If you have a storefront, be sure to include your address and a map to help your customers find you.

Step 3: Google+ uses “circles” to gain fans of your business. People can add you to their circles and you can add them back. This allows you to connect with your customers and get useful feedback. If you go to the Google+ Business page you can also download a Google+ icon for your website.

Step 4: Host a Hangout. Google+ also provides users with something called “Hangouts”, where you can meet and interact with your customers through video or instant message chats. You can plan a formal “Hangout” or an impromptu gathering.

Step 5: Monitor your Google+ page to see what your customers are saying about you. Also update content frequently. Think about adding promotions, contests and other interesting content to keep your loyal customer base engaged and loving your brand.

Also, be sure to check out Wpromote’s Google+ Profile and add us to your circle!

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Who Instant Watches the Instant Watchers?

Who doesn’t have Netflix? Okay, pipe down down-loaders and women who brave their local 7-11 Redbox. Besides you… who doesn’t have Netflix? Okay, pipe down people who complain about $8 a month for unlimited streaming (Instant Watch) of tons of movies and television shows. This post is for the non-hobos with an internet connection. The library is closed!

Millions of people have Netflix. This means millions of eye balls have the ability to discover, enjoy or hate new and old film and television content. For a filmmaker, actor, or writer Netflix becomes an incredible tool to help get your content and name out to the world. The web-series “The Guild” was released onto Netflix years ago and was able to gain curious new eyeballs from viewers like myself. I discovered “The Guild” based on Netflix’s “recommendations” and “best guess” star ratings, which are based on my other movie and television preferences. Netflix’s recommendations, and it’s community of users’ star ratings, can really make or break a production on Netflix. If a movie is not recommended in comparison to another chosen movie then users may never see the movie. If a show is given poor ratings by several users, then the show looks like a dud and many users will avoid watching. Basically, Netflix has the potential to help or hurt a creator’s reputation and possibly career.

Netflix may in fact be largely responsible for the resurrection of the comedy “Arrested Development” which was canceled after three seasons on Fox, due to poor ratings. The show became such a huge hit on Netflix (particularly for the Instant Watch community) that years later a movie and follow-up season are being created. The new season will be created exclusively for Netflix users, giving Netflix some quality future original content.

This brings me to my title question: Who Instant Watches the Instant Watchers?

Recently Netflix has started creating their own viewing content. Their first produced content came in the form of the 8 episode “Lilyhammer.” “Lilyhammer” is a show about an ex-gangster who testifies against a mob boss and then is sent to Norway as a part of his witness protection program. I specifically searched for this show in my Netflix Instant Watch account so it was not “recommended” to me by Netflix, however, once I got there I noticed it had a “best guess” 4.3 star rating for me (with an overall 4.1 star rating). Instantly (see what I did there) I was skeptical.

Lilyhammer Neflix Rating
Lilyhammer Neflix Rating

Sure the general rating quotes over 70,000 users who have rated the series, but how do I know that number of users is accurate and/or real? Netflix could easily corrupt their rating system by having bots give high reviews to their own original content. Since it is Netflix’s system, they could easily do this and nobody would know the difference. Taking this Netflix skepticism further, how do we know production companies are not paying Netflix to use their possible review bots to boost specific programming? The sway of eyes to particular creators and actors could help the production companies’ numbers on recent movie theater releases, blu-ray and DVD sales or even weekly television watching habits (thus helping gain advertisers for commercials). Oh yes, this corruption runs deep… all the way to the Presidency!

Dun dun dunnnnnnnn!

Take a moment to sit down. Compose yourself. Take a deep breath.

There.

The next time you jump onto your Netflix queue… be cool. They don’t know you know. But you know. I know. We know.

My apologies for not asking you if you would rather not take the red pill.

 

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How to Optimize Your YouTube Video

“Do you guys know how to post videos to Facebook?” Yes, we do. We also know how to post them to YouTube, one of most popular video sharing websites on the Web. The important question is not “Do you know how to post your videos online?” It’s “Do you know how to optimize your online videos?” If you think search engine optimization (SEO) is strictly for written content on your website or blog, you might need more help then our tailgating friend from the AT&T commercial.

With more than 3 billion videos being viewed on YouTube each day, there is a lot of competition out there for views. So making sure you use the tools available to optimize your video is important.  Below, we will outline the best ways to optimize your YouTube videos to make sure that you are doing everything you can to get your target audience to discover and view your videos.

Keywords

Similar to writing copy for your website or blog posts, when optimizing your video for YouTube, you need to pick targeted keywords. You may have used Google’s keyword tool to get ideas of popular keywords and phrases when advertising online or picking keywords for your onsite copy. YouTube also has its own keyword tool that can help you get ideas of popular searched words and phrases. The tool allows you to search for keyword ideas by typing in descriptive words or phrases or by typing in a video ID or URL.

From your descriptions, the tool will pull data on how many search hits various words and related phrases get. You can use your keywords for your video to be optimized for search within YouTube, or use those keywords to advertise on YouTube.

What’s in a Name?

Once you find your optimal keywords, you’re going to want to use them in the title of your video. Be sure to use your most prominent and more competitive keywords in the beginning of the title. If you are promoting your company or a brand, put your company name or product name at the end of the title. There will be less competition for your specific company name. Also, make sure the title is clear and concise. Search spiders don’t typically understand crafty writing or a play on words, so choose clarity over cleverness.

Video Description and Tags

Along with the title, you should also fill out a description of your video. Typically your description can be up to 800 words. Try to be detailed without giving an entire narration of the video. The description is a good place to use keywords as well as your web address and links to other information you might want viewers to click on. This also provides a link back to your site, which can increase your traffic and organic rankings.

You’re also going to want to use those keywords when you add tags to your video. You have around a 120 characters to use for tags. Make them detailed, and think about including tags that include your store location, brand and popular search topics that are consistent with your video.

Video Content

Again, just like optimizing written copy, when you start thinking about creating a YouTube video to promote a brand, company or product it’s crucial to include meaningful content. One of the main reasons people to go YouTube is to be entertained or to learn something new, not to be sold something. Keep this in mind when creating your video and try to produce useful content. A how to video or do it yourself themed video is much more likely to get viewed than a sales pitch for a product.

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Oscars 2012: And The Winner For The Best Twitter Account Goes To…

Nowadays, you can get the latest news just by logging on to Facebook and Twitter. After last night’s 2012 Academy Awards, it appears skin is in. The buzz about Angelina Jolie’s leg flash and Jennifer Lopez’s wardrobe malfunction made their mark on the Twitterverse with their very own profiles.


Less than 24 hours after the event, @AngiesRightLeg has acquired an outstanding 14,123 followers, while @JLosNipple trails with 2,474 followers.

Angelina Jolie inspired a new meme and according to Oscar.com, was the #1 trending topic on Twitter.  While, second went to the winner for Best Picture – The Artist. Other popular Twitter trends during the Oscars included Nick Nolte, Sacha Baron Cohen spilling “Kim Jong-il’s ashes” on Ryan Seacrest, and Octavia Spencer winning the Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar.

So the question is… whose tweets will YOU be following?

Be sure to follow Wpromote on Twitter!

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How To Write SEO Content

Now that you’ve honed in on the best SEO keywords for your website, it’s time to start putting them to work within your content. There are three things to remember when writing SEO content with the aim of increasing your organic search rankings.

Write High-Quality Content
Last year, Google Panda update 2.2 changed the way Google identifies and filters webpages. The ultimate goal of the update was to do away with duplicate content. So although it seems obvious, it must be said: Don’t copy content from other sites. If you do, you run the risk of being penalized by Google.

When writing onsite copy, stick to the basics: what product or service does your business provide and what makes you the better business to choose? Make sure your content is clear, concise, and well written. You loose creditability when your writing includes spelling and grammatical errors.

If you have a blog on your website, use it to write about newsworthy and relevant topics in your industry. Think about featuring guest bloggers on your site or guests who might be a leader in your industry. This allows not only for great content that readers will enjoy, but also provides an opportunity for back links to other sites.

Be sure to structure your SEO content in a way that it is easily readable. You can add interesting images or Infographics and separate talking points with bullets and headings. By creating visually pleasing copy, it is more likely to be read.

Use Targeted Primary and Secondary Keywords
The whole point of SEO content is to help increase your organic search rankings. So just as important as it is to have unique, quality content, that content must also include targeted keywords. A typical rule of thumb for your SEO writing is to have 300-500 words per page, using a primary keyword two or three times and secondary keywords once. Overstuffing your content with keywords does not improve your search rankings.

Be sure you’ve done your research before picking your primary keywords. If you pick high competition keywords, they are not going to be as useful if you are a small local business competing with a large industry that dominates those particular keywords. Read our blog post on how to choose your SEO keywords.

Make Your Content Accessible To Search Engines
The way a search engine reads your website is different than the way a typical consumer reads your website. Search engines like Google send out spiders to crawl your site. Search engines will often give preference to those sites that use title tags and meta descriptions. Be sure to use keywords in your title tags and meta descriptions. On the same note, search engine spiders can’t read images. If you use images on your site, make sure that you include alt tags with keywords that can be read by the spiders. Search engines also like to see new content added frequently. Be sure to constantly upload fresh content to your site.

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How To Choose SEO Keywords

It’s a common request; I want my website to rank higher in the organic SERPS (search engine result pages). Ideally, you’d like to list in the top three, but you’d settle for making it on the first page. If you want to rank higher in the SERPs, you need to start paying close attention to your keywords. Keywords are the words and phrases that your potential customers are typing into a search engine to find a particular product or service.

When you begin the process of choosing the SEO keywords that you’ll be using as part of your website copy, you’ll find that the process is part guess work, part trial and error and part research.

First, you’ll need to ask yourself some basic questions about your web audience and your products and services.

1.    Who uses your website?
2.    What product or service are you selling?
3.    Why/How is your business different?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can start putting together a list of words that adequately describe your business. If you own a bicycle repair shop, it’s likely that the words “bicycle repair” will be included in your search. Don’t feel that you have to limit your keywords to just one or two words. Pick a variety of short phrases to test out such as, “bicycle repair Santa Monica.”

Put yourself in the shoes of your customer and think about what they would type into a search engine when looking for your product or service. Also think about more specialized products or services that your shop might offer that people might search for, such as “beach cruiser rentals.”

Once you’ve come up with a list of potential words and phrases, it’s time to do some research. Pull up a Google search page and start typing. Many times Google will guess what you’re typing and auto fill the rest of your keyword or phrase. This information will give you an idea of what people are searching for. Doing this little test may help you tweak your keywords or phrases.

Next, you’ll want to find out how many people are using your keywords to see what your competition looks like for particular keywords or phrases. Use Google’s Keyword Tool to tell you how much competition (high, medium or low) you have for a particular keyword or phrase.  The keyword, “bicycle repair” for instance, comes in at medium competition with 165,000 global searches a month, whereas “bike shop Santa Monica” has low competition with only 1,300 global searches per month.

When it comes to using your chosen SEO keywords in your content, remember not to overstuff your writing with keywords. There’s no hard-and-fast rule to how many times you should use the keywords – just make sure that your content sounds natural. Using keywords too many times can lead to the content sounding “robotic.” The best SEO copy not only includes targeted keywords, but also provides meaningful information to your reader. As Google continuously makes changes to its search algorithm, organic search will be highly dependent on meaningful content to weed out spam indexing.

In other words, don’t just write meaningless content on your site as a placeholder for your keywords.  And remember, constantly updating onsite content can help you climb in the organic search rankings, but it also takes time.

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How To Promote Your Business Using Social Media

Social media is a pretty broad term. It’s easy to advise small businesses to get on board with the latest social media trends, plaster their company’s name and logo on all kinds of social networking sites and harness the vast power of social media to promote their business. But let’s be realistic. Simply putting up a business page on Facebook and Google+ is not going to bring hundreds of new customers through your door.

The harsh truth about social media is that you’re only going to get out of it what you put into it. The goal of social media is to reach new customers, but it all starts with a relationship and a plan, otherwise your foray into the social media landscape will be for nothing.

Begin by thinking about your target audience. What is their age bracket and what sites do they use the most? Do you have a storefront or restaurant that people are already reviewing or talking about? Are you trying to provide information to educate someone about a particular service or topic?

Before you can make a plan, you need to know what your objective is in using social media. If you’re selling a product online that you want to promote, you’re going to have a different game plan than a dentist trying to get new patients in their chair.

Once you establish your goals, you need to decide which social media platforms to use. Facebook, Google+ and Twitter dominate the social media space. We’ve written specific blog posts on both Facebook and Google+, with instructions on how to set up a business page on both. Click on the links to learn more about those.

For the purposes of brevity, we are going to focus on some social media tactics you might not know about.  The biggest of which is Pinterest.

Pinterest allows visitors to “pin” pictures of products, webpages and other items of interest. Started as a site for crafts and recipes, the site is growing like crazy. ComScore recently said Pinterest garnered 421 million page views in the US in October alone – a 2,000 percent increase from June. As of February 2011, the site had a whopping 10.4 million registered users. Businesses are finding that the site is creating a windfall of activity for their businesses. If you are selling a product or service, especially if it’s of interest to women, GET ON THIS SITE. More than 97 percent of those people “pinning” items are women. Businesses can create a profile and start sharing with potential followers. Remember though, the site is meant to be a community. So be authentic, engage and don’t make it all about your business.

LinkedIn had an estimated 33.9 million visitors last year. So it’s definitely worth it to create a business profile on LinkedIn. Encourage your customers and employees to connect with your company page. LinkedIn is a great way for professionals to learn about your business and services. Be sure to encourage your employers to get onboard and become advocates for the company.

Once your company has signed up with the appropriate social media sites, it is important to keep them updated. Post comments, updates and engage with your users. If keeping track of all of those sites seems overwhelming, think about signing up for a social media management platform. Look into hiring Wpromote to manage your social media profiles. Also, if you have customers that love what you’re doing, ask them to write a positive review on yelp, tweet about your company or “pin” one of your products.

It’s also important to keep your ears open to what is being said about you throughout social media. Set up a Google Alert to send you an email anytime there is chatter on the web about your business.

Create a social media plan, and stick to it!