The ability to geo-target our web-based ads is something we take for granted. It enables us to segment visitors and promotions, target specific products and ad copy to specific regions, and ensure we’re only showing ads in geographic areas we serve.
It’s precisely BECAUSE we take geo-targeting for granted that we fail to question if it’s working correctly.
How Does Geo-Targeting in Search PPC Ads Work?
There are two ways Google (adCenter works very similarly) matches your targeting to a users’ query – via their physical location and their search intent during a search session. Physical location relies on IP address to determine a user’s location. “Searching for, or viewing pages about” means that if a searcher includes a geographic term in their query (eg, “flower shops in New York City”), even if they’re in Illinois, they can see ads targeted to New York City.
How Accurate is IP-based Targeting?
I recently launched a set of campaigns in both Google AdWords and Bing/Yahoo adCenter targeting Ohio and Virginia. The campaign I am working on has specific product and legal requirements that vary according to state law.
In trying to explain discrepancies in performance between them, I examined how many clicks from my AdWords and adCenter campaigns were coming from outside of their targeted states. Traffic for each campaign is going to a dedicated landing page that is noindexed (can’t show in organic results) – the only way to arrive at this campaign is via the search campaigns.
Geolocation IP Testing - Methodology
I created two custom segments in Google Analytics, one for each landing page, and then added a secondary dimension for Region. Any visits where Region was (not set) was counted as out of target area.
I was surprised at what I found. Performance in AdWords was generally good, with 4% of clicks in Ohio coming from out of state and 13% of clicks in Virginia coming from out of state.
Performance in adCenter, however, was not as good. Nearly 21% of clicks in Virginia came from out of state, and a whopping 29% of clicks in Ohio came from out of state.
Not only was the percent of clicks coming from outside of the targeted area high; some were wildly far off. I recorded clicks coming from Texas, California, Illinois, Alabama, New Mexico, and Maine for both AdWords and adCenter.
I touched based with several industry colleagues whom I know advertise with adCenter, and all reported a significant proportion of clicks coming from outside areas they were targeting.
When I raised this issue with my account rep at Yahoo, he ran and sent a geolocation report (based on adCenter/Yahoo’s own systems and data no doubt) showing that all of their clicks originated within Ohio and Virginia.
How to Fix Broken Geo-targeting?
There isn’t an easy fix for this – even if you select the strictest targeting option (based on physical location and ignoring any searcher intent), you cannot be 100% sure your ad will only show in your desired target area. It would seem that adCenter has room to improve their IP-based targeting, given the high percentage of clicks coming from outside of the targeted area.
As more users move to using mobile phones as their primary device, this should become less of a problem, as geolocation accuracy is significantly better on mobile devices vs. desktop computers due to their location detection hardware.
Getting to the top of Google’s organic listings is hard work. So why not manipulate the less scrutinized local listings to fake your way to the top? Here (tongue in cheek) are 8 quick steps to getting to the top of local listings.
Step One - Keyword Rich Domain
Get a keyword rich domain name, preferably also including the geographic area you’re targeting. For example, www.cashadvancemilwaukee.com. Make sure to register through Domains by Proxy to obscure your identity.
Step Two - $$$$
Step Three - You Need a Fake Address
Get a bogus address with an executive office service or mail drop company like FedEx office, UPS office, etc. This is where Cash Advance Milwaukee is purportedly located.
Step Four - Get Some Bogus Reviews
Hire some offshore workers to generate fake reviews of your location on services that feed into Google Local/Google+.
Step Five - Now for Some Junky Exact Match Anchor Text Links...
Generate some spam profile and comment links with highly targeted keywords
Step 6 - BAM! There ya go.
Rank for highly competitive terms.
Step 7 - Watch the money roll in
I recently had the opportunity to attend Seer’s second “Search Church” event, Did You Google It?, where an impressive panel of digital marketers (Tom Critchlow of Distilled, Mike King of iAcquire, Ethan Lyon of Seer, and Wil Reynolds of Seer) walked through how they would revamp one non-profit’s online presence and marketing strategy.
While the presentation focused on one specific non-profit, The William Way Community Center of Philadelphia, the lessons were applicable to the many non-profits and small businesses in attendance.
I also recently had the chance to attend the In-house SEO Exchange in Seattle following the popular SMX Advanced Conference. I spent time discussing real issues in-house SEO face at companies like Microsoft, REI, Eddie Bauer, Amazon, Trip Advisor, Home Depot, Cost Co, Nordstrom, UrbanSpoon, and more.
Both of these events got me thinking about the idea of search engine optimization or, more broadly, inbound marketers as a community. While it may seem counter-intuitive in a field as competitive as SEO or PPC, as a profession, we’re constantly in unchartered waters. Whether it’s the latest algorithm update from Google, government privacy regulation, or the latest tool, we don’t learn this stuff from a college course, we learn it from each other. While there MANY conferences that exist in this space (SES, SMX, PubCon, Link Love, Search Love, etc.), these exist mainly to transmit knowledge from the people driving the industry forward to more mainstream participants from enterprise companies to small and medium-sized businesses.
What does it mean to be part of an “SEO community”?
While there are certainly some cities that can claim to be hubs of the SEO community, SEO practitioners are distributed across the country, working for agencies, in-house at corporations, and consulting. Many blogs and message boards serve as forums for discussion – SEOMoz, SEOBook, Webmaster World, Inbound.org, not to mention countless groups on LinkedIn, Twitter hashtags, etc. However, in these public settings, most are unwilling to part with too much private data or too many strategic insights. Those working in-house (vs agency) are especially limited, as it’s immediately obvious what site or company they’re discussing, and they’re often operating in a much more isolated environment than their agency counterparts.
Going Beyond SEO Competiton
While there are certainly some cities that can claim to be hubs of the SEO community, SEO practitioners are distributed across the country (and world), working for agencies, in-house at corporations, and consulting. Many blogs and message boards serve as forums for discussion – SEOMoz, SEOBook, Webmaster World, Inbound.org, not to mention countless groups on LinkedIn, Twitter hashtags, etc. However, in these public settings, most are unwilling to part with too much private data nor too many strategic insights. Those working in-house (vs agency) are especially limited, as it’s immediately obvious what site or company they’re discussing, and they’re often operating in a much more isolated environment than their agency counterparts.
A Social Contract for SEOs
What does it mean to be part of an SEO community? Is there a “social contract” of sort? I would argue that there is. If you want to be part of the community and reap the benefits of participating, you have to be willing to contribute something in turn. This goes beyond reading and commenting on blogs to actively participate in things like Twitter chats, attending industry events and conferences, sharing original data and insights, and so on – above all contributing your insights. Add value, and you’ll be recognized and reap the rewards of your investment.
Stop Wearing Hats
Frequently the discussion in the SEO world is boiled down to so-called “white hat” vs “black hat”. I think anyone who has spent significant time working in the industry knows it’s significantly more complicated than this. Sometimes I think it’s easy to stand in Rand Fishkin’s shoes (selling software and speaking at conferences – not driving bottom line business results in hyper-competitive industries) and advocate a “ethical”, “white hat” SEO strategy.
Even major agencies in the SEO space can advocate this, as their suggestions are often divorced from the actual implementation and bottom line results – they’re often brought on as consultants to provide suggestions, not execute strategies and measure results.
“Black” vs “white” is a false dichotomy that divides the community and limits discussion and ability to learn. To be clear – I’m not advocating illegal techniques (eg, hacking websites, automated comment spam, xRumer, etc.). SEO techniques are about a trade-off between expediency and longevity – legitimate sites that hope to continue to grow tend to favor a more conservative approach to SEO, which is only logical.
Is "Outing" Others Bad?
This brings me to my next point – one of major contention in the SEO community – of “outing” others. While I am sympathetic to both sides of the argument here, I’m generally not opposed to openly discussing the tactics other sites are using. If you’re techniques are “publicly” visible in the sense that they’re discoverable through tools like SEOMoz, Ahrefs, Majestic, Screaming Frog, etc., then they’re fair game to discuss.
One of the more high profile cases recently was that of iAcquire (disclosure: companies I have been affiliated with have been clients of iAcquire). A site owner “outed” them for buying links. First of all, anyone knowledgeable in the SEO industry was likely already aware of iAcquire’s business model. Secondly, this fostered an open discussion (more, more) both about the effectiveness and about the ethic of compensating for links. iAcquire itself is still penalized by Google as a result of this “outing” – their site is completely deindexed. The result has been that iAcquire no longer is engaging in compensating linking, and likely others in the industry who were are now pivoting away from doing so.
Community Facilitates the Evolving Practice of SEO
This is how SEO evolves as a practice -- through transparency, openness and discussion. If it didn’t, we’d all still be talking about keyword density and meta keyword tags. In order for SEO to evolve and respond to Google’s ever-changing algorithm, we have to be open to discussing techniques, their effectiveness, their riskiness and so on -- including “black” or “grey” hat techniques Google may frown upon as well as evolving best practices.
(note: I thought I was really clever coming up with this title, but evidently Brian Solis used it in this post in 2009 to illustrate a similar issue)
Danny Sullivan's epic rant at SMX Advanced hit home with me, because "link building" is something my company has been struggling with as an organization. The entire practice is geared around building links for "SEO value" - which is completely disconnected from the original function of a link. Instead of providing additional information to users or acting as a reference, many links placed for "link building" have only a vague connection to the content in which they're embedded.
Companies that do "real" marketing and PR, companies that have a defined brand, don't have to worry (as much) about link building as, say, a site like OnlineAutoInsurance.org. These brands don't have to worry about generating links that "look" natural -- their links ARE natural.
With that in mind, I have seven tips for using PR strategies for "link building":
1) PR does not mean “press release”. If this is what your idea of using “PR” for link building looks like, you’re doing it wrong:
While this is an SEO strategy that may have worked in the past, this press release offers absolutely no value to journalists (its theoretical audience). Instead, it’s syndicated to news wires and sites. Does this generate links? Sure. But do these links actually drive any SEO value?
2) Instead, provide something of original and of value that your target audience (print journalist? Bloggers? Etc.) might actually be interested in. Think of a headline that a news organization or blogger would use, and then provide original data that could fit into this story.
High value content could be original data you have access to from running your business, a consumer research study you commissioned, an original analysis of publicly available data, a human interest story, etc. Offer something that can form the basis of an interesting news article (no one is going to republish your press release as-is).
3) Talk about something BESIDES your product that’s newsworthy. Certainly there’s something interesting about your company that is unrelated to your core product or service – do your employees do volunteer work? Does your company sponsor sports teams or scholarships? Do you donate to charity, host knowledge exchanges or meet-ups, or speak at industry conferences or events? Contests or giveaways? These are all potential link building opportunities by themselves – extend their value further by pitching them as news stories to publications and bloggers.
4) Hire a PR staffer or agency. Even in the digital age, much of the PR world is relationship-based. If you don’t have time to cultivate those relationships, your chances of getting plum placements in traditional press are significantly lower. A PR agency can help ensure your story pitch gets into the hands of someone who actually wants to see it.
5) Can’t afford to hire a dedicated PR staff member or agency? Do it yourself. Many in the media are on platforms like Twitter, Quora, Google+ and will source story ideas, data, and quotes through them. Follow them on these platforms and watch for when they ask questions and provide relevant (not salesy) answers.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is also an excellent source to match reporters and bloggers looking for sources with knowledgeable people ready to contribute.
6) Be controversial (or just ridiculous). While not appropriate for every brand, being intentionally (or unintentionally) controversial can generate significant media coverage. When Kenneth Cole’s twitter feed made light of the uprising in Egypt, he received a flood of media attention, articles, mentions and, yes, links.
7) Complete the circle. Leverage your promotions, partnerships, contests, and earned media coverage further, by involving your social media channels and site. Followers are more apt to re-post impartial coverage from third parties vs. a brand’s own promotional content.
While many of the examples used in this post showcase established brands, the tactics here can just as easily be applied to smaller or unknown brands -- they just may require additional footwork to get the traction they need to be effective.
Create content of value (original data, research, interviews), not mindless press releases, and get it in front of people who will find it interesting (reporters, trade groups, legislators, etc). If you can't afford a dedicated PR staff member or agency, make use of the many free tools and platforms available to get your message out. The links will follow.
Many thanks to all that replied to my survey request - a total of 60 people filled out the survey! In addition to the "24/7" format that currently is #UsGuys, scheduled chats on specific topics allow us to go beyond the water cooler and have in-depth discussions about distinct topics and, hopefully, attract knowledgeable guests.
With these chats, we can improve the utility of #UsGuys as a group and community while also attracting new members who are aligned with our vision. With that, check out my awesome Excel 2003 charts.
46% of respondents expressed an interest in weekly chats, with about 1/3 wanting bi-weekly, and around a quarter wanting once a month chats. Weekly chats could be feasible, if there is a strong enough interest, enough unique topics together, and a couple people interested in sharing hosting duties.
Preferences on what day of the week to host a scheduled #UsGuys chat were fairly evenly distributed, with the notable exception of Friday and Saturday. Given the variety of chats that already exist, no matter what day/time #UsGuys scheduled chat occurs, it is bound to conflict with another chat.
For time preference, the 8-9p EST timeslot was by far the preference among respondents. There were also several write ins asking for times later than 9p for West Coasters.
|Social media for B2B||32|
|Social media for B2C||32|
|Social media analytics||29|
|Search engine marketing||20|
|Integrating traditional & digital advertising||29|
|Website analytics / biz intelligence||16|
|Branding / brand management||35|
|Geo-location / LBS||19|
The strongest interest among respondents was using social media for B2B and B2C marketing, branding and brand management, blogging, social media analytics, and integrating traditional & digital marketing/advertising.
Write in suggestions included conversion optimization, enterprise social media, customer communities, importance of creative in business/marketing, ebook publishing, marketing beyond social media, specific social media platforms (FB pages, LinkedIn, etc.), and the technology behind social media.
While I don’t think we need to wait until New Year’s to examine our lives or make resolutions, it is an auspicious time. The beginning of a new year encourages us to look at the past and plan for the future. With that, here are some of my thoughts / goals / resolutions for 2011.
Listen More than I Talk
I have been accused of being a “know it all” at times, but I’m quick to admit when I don’t know something. If you think you’re an “expert” at something, what you’re really doing is closing yourself off to learning anything knew about it. So on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc., I am going to try to LISTEN more than I TALK – I will learn more by recognizing the value in what others have to say.
Expand My Base
Tom’s post “Is Twitter Telling You Only What You Want to Hear?” (here) got me thinking about this. While I have a wide variety of publications in my RSS reader, I typically always check the same ones. And while I now follow over 850 people on Twitter, I rarely check my home feed, preferring to spend my limited time following the #UsGuys stream or even just following conversations I already have in progress.
So, I resolve in 2011 (tomorrow, hopefully!) to better organize the people I follow, including people with whom I frequently disagree. Those are the viewpoints that are truly useful, as they force me to stop and re-examine my own views and thought processes. Only by having my views challenged can I refine them.
Narrow My Focus
Reflecting back on 2010 and the variety of work I’ve done with and for clients, I realize that to get ahead, I need to narrow my focus. In the closing months of 2010, there were a couple conversations where I was asked to describe what I do, and I realized I am a digital marketing generalist, when what I want and need to be is a digital marketer focused on a specific niche.
Whether that is a service/channel (Facebook, Twitter, whatever) or an industry/niche (digital marketing for non-profits, for small business, for restaurants) – by narrowing my focus, I can deepen my knowledge of that area.
Balance Work and Life
When I’m really excited about something, I tend to let it become all-consuming, and that is certainly true about the last several months of 2010. I love the variety of tasks and challenges that comes with working with different clients. I interact with people in different worlds and different capacities. But I’m no good to anyone if I’m burnt out.
In 2011, I’m going to take the time to take care of myself – time to prepare good meals, exercise, take mental health/sanity breaks when need be. The brain and body need downtime to process and re-charge. You never know where you'll draw inspiration from - if you stay in 'work mode' 24/7, you may miss opportunities of which you're not even aware.