How You Name Your Web Sites, Microsites and Blogs Can Impact Your Search Engine Rankings


SEO and Search graphic

Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is very complex, with proprietary algorithms used by each of the major search engines to determine rankings and I am only scratching the surface in this article, but here are some important tips and guidelines.

Many people and companies often talk about web site content and content structure when discussing search engine optimization. Search engine optimization is about making your web site content efficient and effective so your web site ranks as high as possible in organic listings (not sponsored or non-paid advertising, also known as search engine marketing) but did you know that the web site URL you select is also very important?

Many companies like to use vanity URLs instead of a real company name in their URLs. A vanity URL is like a vanity phone number or a vanity license plate. A vanity URL for a fictitious company such as Acme Precision Widgets, whose real web site is could be or  Typically, the vanity URL would then redirect to the real URL and if you paid close attention you would see this happen in your browser http address listing. For permanent vanity URLs, coders typically use what is called a “301 redirect” to the real page URL shown above, but the user would only need to see (click on) or type the vanity URL. A 301 redirect is a redirect that does not have a time expiration as opposed to a 501 redirect, which does expire at a predefined time interval.

 google search results pageVanity URLs Can Suppress Search Engine Rankings
Search engine relevancy scores (the scores that determine which pages will make it to the top of a search engine’s organic search results) take into account page load times. Therefore, making pages too “heavy” with rich media content or having too many URL redirects (hops due to vanity URLs or other hidden structures) will slow page load times and consequently lower your page rankings with the search engines. This means that your web site moves down the list of organic search results, leading to potentially lower organic traffic and a need to rely more heavily on paid search. 

What Is Your Goal?
If your goal is to drive as much online volume as possible through organic search results, versus paid online media, then vanity URLs are not necessarily the best way to go. Instead, use your company’s real URL wherever possible and add a forward slash to drive to a specific landing page which contains content relevant to what you are promoting. Alternatively, you can drive users to your home page and feature whatever you are promoting there in what is called a “hero space”. Many companies use hero spaces that allow you to feature multiple products, services or offers, by rotating them at pre-set short time intervals.

 When Vanity URLs Are a Must
Sometimes there is a justified need for a vanity URL due to the nature of the product or service or promotion, or because your company URL is simply too long and is not easily shortened. When those exceptions are made, here are some helpful tips to follow.

Track Whatever Vanity URLs You Already Have or Create
When creating a vanity URL, keep a central repository of those links because they need to be maintained over time. A simple example is if you choose to move the location of the real page on your web site, then the reference point for the vanity URL needs to be updated or the user will have a broken link that goes nowhere.

Vanity URLs Should Also Have Strong Brand and Key Word Relevancy
Vanity URLs should also have strong brand and key word relevancy as opposed to making up or using words infrequently used by consumers simply because they sound “cool”. Strong brand and key word relevancy will further increase your relevancy scores with search engines. If the intended audience is not familiar with the term, then even if it’s catchy, it will hurt your organic results because you will achieve fewer exact matches. The only exception is if you are going to literally spend millions and millions of dollars advertising offline and online in order to create brand recognition for something like a new term or a new product, service or company name.

 For those who want to delve further into the technical side of how vanity URLs/redirects erode search engine relevancy, please see this article which discusses 301 redirects and confirmation from Matt Cutts (Google Engineer) that some link equity is lost when a 301 is used within a website – but not as much as when the true URL is completely removed from the vanity name.

Written by: Steven Copertino, Digital Marketer


New Tool Promises to Put Social-Media ROI on Same Footing as Traditional Media

Interesting article in Ad Age about a new tool to measure Social
Media ROI. I think some marketers and finance people are too obsessed with measuring the ROI of Social Media, unless you are talking about a true ecommerce component like some retailers such as Express, JC Penney and others are integrating into their Facebook presence.

Most social media is considered upper funnel activity that drives awareness and consideration. This does ultimately lead to increased purchase activity by makigng your SEM more effective or increasing organic site traffic, but it’s very difficult to tie back to your SM activities due to all the other variables at play.

– Steve Copertino

Marketing Evolution, Telmar Believe Effects Can Be Predicted, Accountable Like Other Media

By: Jack NeffBio               Advertising Age              Published: June 03, 2011

Social media has struggled for years to demonstrate return on investment on the same analytical playing field as more established media. Now, Marketing Evolution, which has been working on cross-media analytics for more than a decade, is joining with media planning software provider Telmar to release an ROI tool they say will do just that.

The companies will unveil the Telmar Matterhorn ROI tool, which became available earlier this week for early clients including Interpublic’s Universal McCann, during a presentation at Federated Media Publishing’s Conversational Marketing Summit June 6, the start of Internet Week in New York. That’s fitting, said Marketing Evolution CEO Rex Briggs, because a statement by Federated’s executive chairman, John Battelle, at a conference last year prompted development of the new tool.

“He lamented the fact that there was no way you could put the investment you were making in social media side by side with your TV investments or even digital display to figure out where you should be investing more or how much,” Mr. Briggs said. At that point, Mr. Briggs said he turned to Rick Brunner, a Doubleclick and Google veteran and longtime internet marketing analyst who has headed Marketing Evolution’s work on the project, and said, “We’ve got the data to do that. Why don’t we solve that?”

Mr. Briggs has been conducting cross-media effectiveness analysis with a wide variety of marketers for more than 10 years, adding new media in along the way as they emerge. The Telmar Matterhorn service will be based on data collected in working with clients such as as Unilever, Coca-Cola Co., Nestle, MTV, Time Warner and EA, among others. Inner workings of how the TMR tool evaluates media will be open for inspection, Mr. Briggs said, and open to addition of new media as they emerge.

“A lot of social media, search and digital advertising models just don’t follow the traditional reach and frequency and cost-per-thousand framework that media-planning tools have been using for decades,” he said.

In fairness, marketing-mix modeling now used by many big advertisers already can analyze sales impact from just about any marketing input, given sufficient levels of spending and a sufficiently well-defined time horizon. The problem, however, is that lower levels of spending for digital and social media often get swamped by the impact of higher-reach media, and earned media such as social and PR don’t always work on the same predictable schedule as paid media.

Also, not every campaign has as its objective an immediate sale, often focusing further toward the fat end of the so-called purchase funnel. Mr. Briggs points, for example, to automotive marketing that may aim to get a brand into consideration for a purchase that may not take place for years.

To address this problem, Marketing Evolution years ago began analyzing campaigns based on objectives often besides sales — such as changes in survey responses regarding what brands consumers are considering.

The TMR tool will look at “basically for every dollar you spend, how many people do you influence on whatever that business objective is — building awareness, changing a brand position, generating purchase intent or generating sales,” Mr. Briggs said.

Analyzing much of digital advertising isn’t so different than traditional, given that it operates on similar reach and frequency data and often similar pricing schemes, he said. But social media and other earned media, that is, public relations, depart from those norms in two key ways.

The costs are often structured very differently, with much of it coming in the form of relatively fixed salary or fee costs for internal or agency staff to, say, run a social media monitoring command center, Mr. Briggs said. Traditional analysis tools also often fail to count all or some of the pass-along effect of social media.

Lack of any ROI norms may have been OK when social-media marketing was still in its infancy and considered experimental, he said. But now the discipline has been around a few years — at least in its toddlerhood — and increasingly expected to stand on its own two feet.

“Earned media and the people curating it probably need to be held a bit more accountable today,” Mr. Briggs said.

Seemingly, such programs would have such a short history and wide range of reach, pass along and impact that it would be difficult to predict outcomes based on past experience, which is how the Telmar Matterhorn ROI tool works for other media. But that hasn’t been the case, Mr. Briggs said.

“What we began to see pretty quickly is that there is a range of results just like with any advertising,” he said. “Some TV ads are better than others. Some programs are more conducive to social sharing than others. But there are absolutely common patterns and averages. One thing we can do is say if you spend $100,000 or $1 million, what should you be expecting to get back as results? If you’re not getting these levels, the budget should really trade over to be invested somewhere else.”

At the same time, other ads in traditional media also generate social-media pass along that needs to be calculated, and draw on some of that investment in things like social-media monitoring, Mr. Briggs said. TMR can account for that, but, he said, more important, it aims to calculate the combined impact of media elements, including their synergy, rather than viewing them entirely in isolation.


Google Adds Own ‘Like’ Button in Foray Into Social Search

google logoInteresting move with wide-ranging implications.

By: Michael Learmonth Ad Age Bio  RSS feedPublished: March 30, 2011

Google is adding its take on the “like” button — which it is calling the “plus-one” — in its latest bid to make search more social, as well as combat the growing dominance of Facebook.

Google's plus-one icon
Google’s plus-one icon

Starting this afternoon, Google will allow users to vote plus-one on search results they find useful, and to share that preference with their connections in Gchat, Gmail, Google Reader, Buzz and, soon, Twitter. Users will see both the total number of plus-one votes, as well as the names and photos of their contacts who have stated a preference.

It’s the most aggressive foray into social search to date and the first time Google has added a direct social signal into search results. Over time, Google will integrate the plus-one into the search algorithm itself so human votes will have an impact search ranking.

“When someone recommends something, that’s a pretty good indicator of quality,” said Matt Cutts, Google’s principle engineer for search. “We are strongly looking at using this in our rankings.”

Google is also adding the ability to vote plus-one on search ads. Internal tests have shown that plus-one votes increase clicks; Google won’t charge for the functionality, but expects better ads to return more plus-ones and, in turn, more clicks. Higher click-through rates can improve quality scores, meaning marketers with better ads could pay less for a given keyword or position.

“We will provide reporting in AdWords for plus-ones,” said ads group product manager Christian Oestlien. “Our belief is that advertisers will see increased performance from ads with personalized annotations.”

The changes are some of the biggest to the visual architecture of search, the classic list of blue links, as well as its functional underpinnings. Plus-one buttons and social connections are going to join a search-results page getting more and more complicated with both real-time and local-search results, in addition to search ads that have also added functionality.

Traditionally, inbound links have been the strongest indicator of relevance and component of page rank. Last year, Google added Twitter updates to also add results that are more recent. Adding the plus-one will add another social component.

“Injecting a social layer into the algorithmic search is key to relevance,” said Dave Karnstedt, CEO of Efficient Frontier. “Do a search on ‘DVD player’ today now you will see 35,000 results in less than 3 milliseconds. It’s meaningless, but if you can sort through those by people who have given a social signal and those rise to the top, I think that can only enhance the user experience.”

But the biggest move here may not be about search at all, but about taking another swing at the social networking business — and at Facebook itself. The first time users clicks on a plus-one button, they will be prompted to create a Google profile, as well as be given the opportunity to adjust privacy settings.

Microsoft’s Bing integrated Facebook “likes” into search results late last year but not into its actual algorithm, meaning a “like” has no affect on search rankings. Google has no immediate plans to add Facebook connections to the system, partly because they don’t have the right to do so. “It would depend on whether that data were available,” Mr. Cutts said.

“Its important for Google to bring in social influence into search results to prevent the social web from becoming a parallel universe,” said Bryan Wiener, CEO of 360i, a unit of Dentsu. “I do think they need to have the Facebook ‘likes’ in there because you’re going to have two webs, the social web and the open web.”

In addition, Google will allow publishers to add the plus-one button, so users can vote on content outside of search, and ultimately improve the ranking of that content in organic search results. Google has by far the largest publisher network, including websites that use DoubleClick for ad serving or Google’s ad exchange, so penetration of the plus-one will be immediate and comprehensive.

The question is whether Google can keep bad actors from gaming the plus-one system for fun or for profit. Google, to its credit, has a lot of experience filtering out attempts to game its algorithms. “The worst case is you just ignore them,” Mr. Cutts said, adding that more complexity makes that more difficult. “If you give somebody five signals — and give them five more — it can actually get harder for spammers.”