Can you imagine there being a change at Google that pre-dates Panda, (and subsequent incarnations) the +1 button, the attribution algo updates and few if any in the SEO world had noticed? I mean, it makes one helluva trivia question don’t it? Not as much fun as; What does Archie comics have to do with the early history of search. But it’s fascinating none-the-less.

Hey gang… long time no chat! Dave here… long lost SEJ writer and all around search geek. Can we talk or what?

February 17th 2011; the day it all changed

First off, those of you familiar with my ranting and ramblings on this topic, are excused. It’s unlikely we’ll be covering much new for my faithful SOSGs (no that’s not talking dirty, it’s; Seriously Obsessed Search Geek m’kay?). It simply needs to be repeated for a larger audience.

Those still wondering what this mad rambling Gypsy is on about, walk with me…

Over the years we’ve seen many changes to Google that had some interesting if not far reaching implications for the fastidious search optimizer. Odd, I’ve never optimized a search engine. What’s up with that? Anyway, getting lost again. We’ve had the rise of personalization (and general flux), the timeliness of the QDF (query deserves freshness), finding our way with deeper localization and general madness in what we call universal search. The list is ever-growing it seems over the last few years.

Many times during these evolutions SEO types weren’t always grasping the value right out of the gate. At least though there were some that caught it and generally some form of awareness within short order.

I mean, this is the group of folks that traditionally go a little mental each time there is a Google toob bar PageRank update… (like this);

bwaaha ha ha…. sigh… sorry, couldn’t help myself. Moving along.

What happened some 4 months ago, while extremely noteworthy, has gone almost entirely un-noticed or at very least, below the radar of those covering the industry.

The 2011 Google Social Search Update

For starters, is it unsurprising this went largely unnoticed? In retrospect, no. If we consider that back in 2008 we caught a glimpse of the Google social graph work and ultimately user profiling, which few seemed interested in, then no. If we consider the madness that ensues with shiny bobbles like the +1 button, then ok, yes… it does give one pause to say WTF?

And on a side note, some have suggested that SEOs like the thought of the +1 having ranking weight because…well… then they can manipulate it. Another story tho… we’ll get back to that.

Here’s the short version of what went down (Googly post here);

Ok, seems kinda unremarkable on the surface right? NOT. This is something fairly significant in the world of search.

Now, a few notes of interest;

  • Google accounts are on the rise (think Android)
  • It pulls from the social graph
  • It is another form of personalization
  • Does an end-around on problematic explicit feedback
  • Uses primary and secondary contacts
  • It re-ranks (search) listings

Catch that last one? It RE-RANKs the listings in the SERP. Anyone that’s been around long enough remembers how we drooled on the new short-cuts to the front page when various verticals gained prominence (aka universal SERPs). This is no different.

Look…. this is logged out;

Logged out social search

And this is logged in;

Logged In Social Search

WOW. We have a new way of ranking and SEOs aren’t talking about it? Did you know that there are a few thousand freaking articles on the +1 button (which doesn’t re-rank anything) but outside of ol Rand (who recently discovered it apparently) and yours truly (tho mine has been a little obsessive ROFL) there has been very little on this one?

Consulting the crystal ball

What I keep hearing is comments that Google accounts aren’t ubiquitous. Huh. Last I checked they’re on the rise thanks in part to Android users needing them and other services (think Google Plus as well). And really, the +1 works the same way. Strangely, I used to hear that as an argument about personalized search. Now? SEOs are not only grasping what personalization is doing to the industry, but in many circles getting frustrated with the flux it causes.

This is all about looking into the future. We are seeing (over the last few years) an evolution to search that will most certainly be around for years to come. It started with real-time search and has grown out of control since then. Google has had a stated goal of deeper personalization for many years. One of the problems has always been the inherent issues with implicit/explicit feedback.

The social graph is a VERY effective way to gain deeper personalization beyond the traditional signals and matches well with the way the web is growing. In short; it makes sense.

Regardless of how much value you see in it now, this is an important development at Google. Did you get spanked by the Panda? Then maybe paying closer attention to the evolution of search could have prevented it. Don’t drop the ball again.

Some food for thought

Ok, enough rambling. I simply wanted to abuse the hallowed halls of SEJ to try and get the word out one last time on this. A few thoughts before I go….

Consider if you will the improved click-through rates that not only the image gives, (to draw the eye) but that fact someone in your circle has recommended it

social search heatmap

They have a good grasp on you social circle (see here); they likely weren’t doing that just for fun right?

Google social graph

Google has long been interested in social profiling, known at the time as ‘friend rank’. The road map has been in front of us the entire time, if you’re looking.

Social profile

And what about the latest foray? Google Plus. It sure seems that what we’ve seen in the last few years is all moving in a concerted direction. I can see MANY ways that this social search update can play nicely with Google Plus. Consider the simple fact that Google Profiles are now wrapped up in Plus. I had originally lamented that they needed better management, which seems to be happening now.

Point being, this is a major vision of where search and social are likely headed. If you, like many, haven’t really been looking at this… it really is time that you did.

If you don’t…. you may find yourself left out of the loop in the real near future

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Google Social Search; the Lost Update


Back in 2005, topical search was the driving force behind many startups. With qualities like relevancy and targeted audience, topical search engines quickly became the desired object of general search companies like Google or Microsoft. Today, nearly every big search engine incorporate some sort of vertical search in its own interface (e.g. search wikipedia or how stuff works on Google, and you’ll get “vertical” search box on the first result), sometimes even without your knowledge.

However, vertical search engines still have the image of undynamic narrow search engines. This article is meant to show how you can use and create topical search engines without interrupting your workflow.

Site search

Before custom search engines were available, site search was the main means to search in specific domains. Today nearly every website have some kind of website search. However their location is not always convenient.  Firefox add-on Search Site lets you search within any website you are on right from the search bar. Just select a search engine that supports the site: parameter to search inside this website.

Yahoo!

In addition to its support of the site: operator, Yahoo! has an in-site “search suggestions” in the left pane of its search results page. Also in the main page, you can select from the left pane, one of Yahoo’s topical search engines like Yahoo! Health or Yahoo! Finance. Furthermore you can use Yahoo! Shortcuts to search in one of Yahoo’s search engines.

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a quasi-command-line interface that lets you search in multiple topical search engines from one search-box. You can also use DuckDuckGo as a “general” search engine. In this case clicking on the more results link or the website icon will yield results that relevant to your query from the website domain.

Rollyo

Search in more than one domain can be somewhat awkward (i.e. foo site:1.example OR site:2.example OR site:3.example etc). Custom search platforms can solve this issue , but they usually required registration. However Rollyo lets you search simultaneously in up to 25 websites without the need for registration. When you create a new “searchroll”, Rollyo automatically creates a pseudo username and adds this searchroll to your dashboard. In addition, you can create searchrolls and add them to your firefox search bar on the fly.

Gigablast

Althogh Gigablast have a convenient way to search in multiple domains, its main advantage is the possibility to search in websites that appears within specific category on DMOZ directory. Also you can restrict your query to specific domain from the search results page by clicking the more from this site link.

Delicious

Delicious has a long time undocumented site: parameter. In adition, you can use the tag: parameter to search webpages with specific tag (e.g. bass tag:music or bass tag:fish).

Yahoo + Delicious

It has long been suggested that Delicious should be integrate with Yahoo! search engine, but till now the only way to customize Yahoo! search is through third party services like deliSearch.

Google + Delicious

Google Custom Search on the Fly made it possible to customize Google with your Delicious bookmarks without the need for registration (Also deliGoo add-on made it easy to customize your results based on Delicious bookmarks, but it is not available for Firefox 3.0 or later). However one problem with Custom Search OTF is that it searches only in partial sites, e.g., if it gets the bookmark http://example.com/blog it will search web-pages only in the blog section or path. Another problem is that if it gets specific web-page it will return only this web-page, i.e., it will return other web-pages from the same path.

Thus, in order to search in whole websites we will have to manipulate somehow Delicious bookmarks, and a great platform for this purpose is Yahoo! Pipes. So here is my own solution for searching within whole websites based on your Delicious tags. Just enter your username and the desirable tag, and you will get an RSS feed with domain names (i.e. whole websites). Past this RSS to the URL box on Google webpage and you’ll get a new custom search engine on the fly!

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Topical Search at Your Fingertips


Zanran is an interesting search start-up that both indexes and maps the numerical content-finding ‘semi-structured’ (as they put it) data on the web. Such data could be a graph in a PDF report, a table in an Excel spreadsheet, or a bar chart shown as an image on an HTML page.

Currently, the search engine extracts tables and images from HTML, PDF and Excel files. In the near future it will also process PowerPoint and Word documents. The system examines millions of images and determines whether each one is a graph, chart or table – and if has numerical content.

Search Options:

By playing with various search options you can find more related numerical data:

  1. Target search to any country
  2. Set the document age
  3. Set the file type (PDF, Excel, images embed within HTML files, tables within HTML files):

Zanran

Additional search tips:

  • Use quotes for an exact-match search (such as “mobile phones”).
  • Play around with synonyms. The tool claims to know only a “few”, so you may want to add your suggestions.

Examples of searches:

Zanran

While the tool seems really useful, it currently lacks some search operators as well as some detailed help sections explaining what works and how. But I am sure the team behind Zanran is working hard to improve it. I wish them the best of luck!

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Find Numerical and Statistical Data with Zanran (Search Start-up)


Likeonomics (n.): The study of how affinities and passions affect the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

The Keyword Made The Web What it Is

You might not realize it, but the way Google works has shaped the web for the last 10 years. Think about it for a second…

How many new websites were created because of popular keywords? Search demand drove new businesses.

How many landing pages were created for AdWords keywords and ads? Keywords shaped website content and architecture.

How many websites cashed in on traffic brought in by keywords with buying intent?

The keyword has made much of the web what it is.

In fact, you might be so stuck in that mindset that you don’t realize how different Facebook marketing is, and how it might begin to change the web’s shape, now that it’s bigger than Google.

How is Facebook Marketing Different From Search Marketing?

Facebook is not about the keyword like Google is; it’s about interests (and demographics).

Facebook isn’t about finding and capitalizing on buying intent like Google is; it’s about capturing qualified prospects and influencing them to buy from you and to buy sooner than they would have.

One of the dirty little secrets of AdWords is that very few keywords drive profitable sales for most businesses. That severely limits the amount of business you can do profitably. Is there a way to expand the conversion funnel and make profits off prospects from higher up the funnel? Yes – Facebook.

Likes Will Reshape Online Business

Facebook is about likes. It’s overwhelmingly positive. There is no DISLIKE button. So how do likes affect the economy through Facebook?

Likes qualify prospects, decreasing your cost per sale and increasing ROI

Likes decrease costs because high CTR on ads lowers cost per fan and high feedback rate on posts lowers cost per (post) impression

Likes increase sales by arousing desire in the AIDA process

Likes prove your prospects are paying attention

Likes create loyalty that leads to testimonials and brand defenders

Likes affirm prospects’ desire for your offerings

Likes drive people toward their next purchase

Photo credits:

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Likeonomics: How Facebook Is Changing Online Business


As you may know, I’m Ukrainian – which means when I do searches on the internet, I use two languages: English (mostly) and Russian. This also means I’m constantly shifting back and forth between the two languages. All this switching inevitably leads to many instances where I’ve forgotten to swap to the intended language before typing the search term and clicking “Enter.”

If you have at least two languages supported by your keyboard, I’m sure you’re all too familiar with this situation.

Today, when I caught myself again typing in the wrong language, I discovered that Google couldn’t be fooled. It understood what I meant:

Google to switch languages

I have absolutely no data to support my theory as to how new the feature is, but I don’t think I have ever noticed anything like it before.

What about you? Have you noticed Google becoming multilingual?

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Google Now Switches Languages for Us


Norwegian travel startup Stay.com, was the proverbial “toast of travel town” at the end of last year. Moreover, judging from today’s release of their version 2.3 Beta, it looks as if the Scandinavian startup is ramping up for some more accolades for 2011. While Version 2.3 is not a Noah’s Ark of online travel exclusivity, users will find adding just about anything to their travel guides, and their community too, quite useful.

For those who are not familiar with Stay.com, the travel startup from Norway ended up as one of the top  5 Time Magazine picks for 2010. I talked about them a bit after the initial Beta launch back in June, 2010. Besides the cleanest user interface around, and beautiful aesthetics, the platform allows users to create very well tailored travel guides for reviewing online or downloading into super nice PDF format. Enough said about old news.

This current version of Stay.com released today offers users the opportunity to add whatever they so desire to their customized travel guides via a nice variation on the Google Places API. And while this may seem a fairly ordinary added value, the search component of this feature is particularly interesting.

In the screen below you can easily see Stay.com affords the users there great flexibility by allowing them to search within the Stay platform, while building guides or doing travel homework, anything that Google Places touches. The next few screenshots from within the Stay.com platform show at least one search/addition aspect. Users can add venues, sites, attractions, almost anything to the new Stay guides, but as importantly, to the community & platform of the development (more later on this).

Berlin Starbucks Image

While building or researching information within a city, the new Stay version lets users either search a term (place), or just pinpoint and add one at their discretion. As the image above shows too, annotating, categorizing, adding to guides, and even sharing via several channels is possible – on the guide level, as well as the item level.

Just like the Stay.com that won accolades last year, the developers in the far frozen North have again laid the groundwork for some very powerful traveler value. The image below shows just one view of the special “add feature” just before the user saves it to his/he guide, etc.

Berlin Starbucks map image

As stated, Stay.com Version 2.3 is not the “end all” startup release of all time. It is however, significant for two basic reasons. First, Stay.com has if anything, been all about completeness from the start – Version 2.3 shows meticulous value building. Secondly, considering what we are told is a beautiful mobile facet to Stay.com, adding desired destinations (later images and even video) seems the next logical step. What would you want an online travel service to be able to help you with?

The image below is one I made to illustrate how users can just define and add even the most obscure venues. The Google Places map below has been zoomed and switched to Hybrid – so adding this Spree River tour is about as easy as aiming a smart phone camera – ooops! I spilled the beans maybe?

Berlin Spree River image

Perhaps I am reading a bit too much into what Stay.com is showing off this time around. However, taking note of the developmental doggedness where so content is concerned. I alluded to this at the start of this article. Stay differentiates itself from almost all other travel startups by using so much professionally generated guide info. It can be said Stay.com is the Frommers of online travel guides. No other such startup I am aware of has such editorial content. Now add the ability for users to create their own variants (not simple reviews) and its easy to see a powerful combination of variables here.

CEO Joachim Paasch had this to say via a release about content:

“We wanted to create something useful and original all along. It appears now we discover how right the decision was to create custom venues and travel descriptions. With “Add your own” Stay.com will become a much more powerful travel service.”

Factoring in Google’s situation where SPAM and content are concerned, and what we have on good advice is a very advanced mobile aspect for Stay.com – and perhaps you see my reason for sounding so optimistic here. Stay.com, or anyone else for the matter, has to consider where the Web is headed with content – what was “King” may soon become out and out Master of the Universe.

Stay.com version 2.3 also throws in a neat Facebook Connect aspect, as well as 8 or more new cities and hundreds of hotels and venues. But, meticulous and complete information, top-notch aesthetics and user interfaces, the widest possible flexibility with the least clutter, and extreme mobility when it’s called for – this is what has so far differentiated Stay.com. If the mobile app up next is as good as we hear, all that’s left for the boys from Norway is the execution. We wait and see.

Berlin Guide Preview

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Stay.com: Searching for Mr. Good Travel


Bing may not have the biggest portion of the market (in fact, being generous, they have about 10%), but the group they have is fiercely loyal. Why? Is it the National Geographic images on the home page? Is it the dedicated loyalty to any Microsoft product? Is it how memorable the name “Bing” is? We think not. Rather, it’s all because Bing has done an excellent job at branding itself for several key niches. Furthering its position in the travel search niche, Bing has added a “destination comparison” tool.

Bing only introduced “destination pages” in the last few weeks, but their Bing blog is already excitedly discussing new user-end abilities to interact with the page. More specifically, users can compare various destinations by showing flights, weather, events, videos, attractions, hotels, and more for each, all in a sleek side-by-side display. The feature will also suggest new, similar comparisons for you to add in case you want to make your decision any more complex.

Want to do your own search? Here’s how:

  1. Go to the “Travel” page of Bing.
  2. Go to the “Destinations” section.
  3. Hover over the visual image display. A new “compare” option should appear.
  4. Click on the check-box next to “compare.”
  5. Rinse and repeat for any other possible destinations.
  6. Click the “Compare X items” button that has appeared in the top-right of your screen.

Bing’s feature update doesn’t end there, however. Aiming to make Bing the “travel search of choice” for users, Microsoft has added in an enhanced hotel information search in both the destination comparison and other travel sections of Bing. New information will include more images, detailed descriptions, user reviews, and more.

While Bing has fallen behind Google in most areas of the search engine battlefield, their search features continue to thrive; there’s no shame in doing your travel searches on Bing.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Bing Adds a Destination Comparison in Travel Search