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What Google knows about your site

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Google and the other search engines hold data about your web presence, including:

  • How many times your site is returned in search results
  • How often visitors click through to your site from search results
  • Keywords they used to find you
  • Web sites linking to you
  • Advice on how you can make your site more ‘crawlable’
  • …and more

They have opened up access to some of the information they hold to verified owners of sites.  This valuable information will help you understand the intent of visitors to your site and optimise it for the type of visitors you wish to attract.

Map Results

You may have noticed that when you search for a service, followed by a place name (such as “manchester plumbers”), a number of companies are returned in the ‘map results’ (they have a small red marker next to the results, corresponding to map markers).

If you haven’t done so already, it is relatively straightforward to verify that you do business where you do and increase the chances of being returned more highly in the map results.

And finally…

We’ll expand on this rather pithy post in due course.  If you need any help in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Competitors exploit airline demise

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

The travel industry is extremely competitive, so it’s no surprise that the demise of Kiss Flights has led to other holiday and flight sellers scrambling to pick up affected customers.

A search on Google for “kiss flights” the morning after the airline went bust reveals how quickly travel agents’ marketing teams have reacted to the news – take a look at the sponsored links:

Google results page for Kiss Flights, showing competitors advertising rebooking services

We can see three types of adverts here:

“Rebook your flights with us! (Please!)”

First Choice, Jet2, On The Beach and others all want to sweep up customers left in the wake of Kiss Flight’s demise.  They (just about) stay on the right side of line between identifying the customer’s needs and exploiting the demise of Kiss.

I can’t help think that some of the ad writers had a feeling of glee when they found out their competitor’s closure, but they are at least channelling this in a way which will help affected customers!

“Book with us – you can be assured that your booking is safe”

Thompson, Co-operative Travel, TVL4U and Fleetway assuage customer concern by mentioning ATOL and/or ABTA in their ad creative.

With Kiss being just the latest UK travel industry casualty of the summer (right on the tails of Sun 4 U and Goldtrail), customers will be seeking assurance that the risk to their holidays is low and that their money is protected, should the worst happen.

Confidence in the scores of travellers who rebooked with Kiss after Goldtrail’s collapse will be particularly low.

Membership to schemes such as ATOL and ABTA can help reassure customers,

“We don’t want our reputation to be dragged down with Kiss, so we’d better make it easy for customers to get a refund.”

Lost Cost Holidays resold flights with Kiss, and their response is to look after their affected customers.  By advertising 100% refunds on flights, they’re demonstrating customer care and shielding their brand’s reputation from the fallout of customer complaints about Kiss.

Reacting to Events

Reacting to events is a good way to show that you are aware of and care about your clients’ concerns.

Technology such as email, paid search advertising (PPC – Pay Per Click) and social networking bypass traditional PR techniques and connect you directly with your audience quickly and cheaply.

Fish.Net are experienced in delivering messages in this way – call our Web team on 01457 819600 to find out how we can help you.

Power Search – Know your results

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Search engines are indispensable for finding information quickly.  Most of the time you’ll find the answer you need immediately, but sometimes you have to delve a little deeper.

Learn the techniques you need to become a power search ninja in this occasional series.


Is Google running scared of Bing?

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

UPDATEIt appears that the rotating backgrounds are here for one day only, to promote the ability to change your Google home page background – read this blog entry for more details.

Having used Google throughout today, I’m certainly glad it won’t be like this tomorrow – it’s extremely irritating!

Google is rolling out personalised backgrounds to its home page following Microsoft’s redesign of its re-branded search engine, Bing.

Traditionally Google’s website has been simple and sparse – is the search giant running scared of Bing?

Google's new home page, complete with background image

Part of Google’s appeal has been the simplicity of its home page.  Presented with a just a logo, search box and a couple of buttons, it was a triumph of utilitarian design – we weren’t bombarded with unnecessary choice or distraction.

Over the last year or so, Google has been experimenting with its user interface.  Additional navigation to its vertical search properties – images, videos, maps and so on – have been added, as have pointers to additional services such as GMail and iGoogle.

Recently, Google sought to maintain the perceived simplicity of its home page by only showing this navigation when the user moved the mouse – extra features are “faded in”.

The new background images are an interesting development.  The reason for the backgrounds are unclear; they certainly do not add any functionality.  Indeed, the page looks busier, is less focused on the search box and the text – despite the text shadow effect – is difficult to read.

The Microsoft Way

Bing - background images done well

Microsoft has implemented background images in a much better way.  Using a soft focus and darker colours in areas behind text, text is more readable. They’ve even added a translucent dark black background to the navigation in the “Explore” area to add clarity.  There is a sense of organised layout – compare the tight left navigation and the footer signposting to Google’s increasingly cluttered, unorganised links.

Google – a shrewd move or losing its way?

Google may be gambling that users will like the background images.  They may also be looking for ways to entice users to upgrade from the antiquated Internet Explorer 6 software to a modern browser (ideally Google’s own Chrome, of course!) – this feature is not available to IE6 users.

Donning a paranoia hat, Google may be banking on users not liking the background images.  The only (non-technical) way to change the image is to create a Google account, log in and change your preferences.  Of course, you’ll need to stay logged in for the background image to remain changed, allowing Google to track your searches more closely.

(Conspiracy theorists may also think that the “fade in” navigation and busier layout are intended to draw attention away from the fact that you may still be logged in).

Alternatively, Google may be aware that Microsoft has built a good search product with Bing, and do not want to lose market share.  Bing’s background image is the biggest visible difference between the two – by homogenising the search market, perhaps Google is expecting that users will stick with what they know.

And finally…

Google has reduced the readability of text, its home page is increasingly cluttered and general usability has taken a hit.

To find out how you can improve your Web site’s usability, call Fish.Net’s Web team on 01457 819600.

Google Analytics – Opt Out

Friday, March 19th, 2010

We recently blogged about the privacy concerns surrounding Google Analytics and other Google products. In summary, Google collects a lot of information about all its users and users of sites which use its services.  In isolation this data can enhance the user experience and site owner’s understanding of visitor behaviour; however, as a collection of data, it provides Google with enormous knowledge and power.

It seems that Google has taken heed of the mounting pressure to preserve privacy and has announced that users will soon be able to opt out of having their data collected via Google Analytics.

We welcome this from a personal privacy perspective, although we would prefer an explicit opt-in, as inertia and lack of awareness will mean few will hear of the opt-out.

Of course, this now raises questions about the usefulness of Google Analytics.  Whilst it’s likely that there will still be a critical mass of users who haven’t opted out, it will still cast doubt over the usefulness of reports.  Google Analytics already fails to track users without Javascript enabled.

Every analytics system has limitations and requires understanding of what data is collected and how to gain insights (it would be a futile task to compare reports from different analytical packages, for example!).  But this reduced confidence in Google Analytics, combined with the other considerations of data ownership, giving valuable infomation to your advertising provider and so on, may be enough to make you consider alternatives.

Fish.Net would be delighted to guide you through alternative solutions, so contact us to find out more.

Search is free

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

War is Peace.  Freedom is Slavery.  Search is free.

google-privacyEarlier in the week I went to see a stage production of 1984, Orwell’s dystopic tale of a near-future totalitarian nightmare.  Performed at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, this adaption by Oldham-born actor, director and playwright Matthew Dunster was suitably bleak and disturbing (and highly recommended).

Thankfully, Orwell’s 1984 didn’t transpire.  We live in a progressive and open society, with the Internet at the forefront of our enlightened world.  Or do we?


Google introduces Real Time Search

Friday, December 11th, 2009

real-time-searchJust days after we reported on Google bringing its dictionary results in-house, the search behemoth has continued to roll out new features with its much-vaunted real time search results.

We have an insatiable demand for instant access for the latest news.  Search engines have not traditionally provided this – it has previously taken days, if not weeks, for search engines to catch up with what Web sites are publishing.

Rolling 24-hour news coverage provides journalistic real-time coverage.  Services such as Twitter and the now established network of blogs has led to a constant commentary about emerging trends and current affairs.  Indeed, it is that content be published so quickly by anyone that makes the Web so unique.

Search engines have taken tentative steps into meeting our demand for as-it-happens content with News and Blog search services.  Google has taken this further with its new Real Time Search results, which amalgamates news, blog and even Twitter tweets related to a search in an automatically updated ticker box.

As I write, the Copenhagen Climate Summit is big news.  A search for ‘copenhagen’ returns not just the usual mash of Wikipedia and News results, but also this scrolling box within the search results:

An example of Google's Real Time Search results

Real time search and your company

Google will evolve the way real-time search works over time – if it’s a hit with its users, it’s likely to become more prominent within search result pages.  The consequences of this could be far-reaching for brands.

Real time search means a higher profile for social network and news content.  Whilst brands could get away with scant monitoring of user-generated content in the past by simply dismissing it as a trend or insignificant, all of a sudden content about YOUR brand which you have little or no control over could now be broadcast on Google.

Monitoring and responding to social media content will become more important.  How you do this – reactively when content appears, or proactively by engaging in social media – will depend on your target audience and the culture within your company.  Fish.Net can advise on the most appropriate method for you – contact us to find out more.

Engaging in social media activity will become more attractive as a marketing option.  Many companies filed social media under “one to watch” as they found it difficult to justify the time cost and with a lack of clear success indicators.  By creating social media buzz, you will be able to generate and somewhat influence content others are posting about you.

Ensuring you publish time-sensitive content not just on your own Web site but also on Web sites seeding the real time search results is also important.  You may be able do this with your existing site content such as a blog or news section – contact Fish.Net to find out how you can maximise the visibility of this content.

Google Dictionary

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Google has taken yet another step towards fulfilling its mission of “organizing the world’s information” with the launch of Google Dictionary.

Google power users will be used to typing a word into the search engine, and rather than clicking one of the search results, opting for the [definition] link towards the top right of the page.  Take this from the results page for “set”:

A search for "set" shows the number of results, along with a link to the word's definition

A search for "set" shows the number of results, along with a link to the word's definition

Before this weekend, clicking “[definition]” took the searcher to the relevant page – a comprehensive collection of general dictionary definitions, synonyms and antonyms, along with discipline-specific (e.g technology, science, marketing) definitions and even text from the corresponding Wikipedia article.

Google now presents a page on its own site with a series of definitions and links.  It’s typically sparse and content-focussed – easy to scan with very few distractions and currently advert-free.

It’s a triumph of simplistic design.  As a user, I can now check a spelling or definition or appropriate context quickly and easily.  And it does a reasonable job of being a simple research tool – or as reasonable as any dictionary can be.

By taking the dictionary in-house, Google is keeping the user on its Web properties.  It’s the latest in a line of services Google now offers in-house, from Web mail and Word Processing to Web analytics.  If Google can provide answers without sending the user elsewhere, it will build and strengthen its position as the primary search provider.

It’s a sobering reminder of how powerful Google is becoming.  With now likely to wither into an also-ran, and other publishers falling by the wayside in a similar way, Google will not only organise the world’s information, but become the only credible gatekeeper to it.

It cannot be healthy for society for any individual, group or organisation to have a monopoly on something as fundamental as information – the bed rock of our economy and increasingly our social fabric.  However ad-hoc the Internet has been to date, it has thrived on being open and competitive.

On a lighter note, a factoid for trivia fans – we chose “set” to demonstrate Google Dictionary as it is the word in the English dictionary with the most meanings – 464 according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Google only manages a meagre 73!