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Internet Marketing
Content, Links & The Evolving Future of Internet Marketing
28. 06. 2010

Internet marketing is an ever changing environment; a maelstrom of tools and products creating new opportunities. Being successful in your Internet marketing endeavours requires vigilant implementation of industry best practices and constant attention to industry trends.

Our adventures at SMX Advanced Seattle and SES Toronto brought us in touch with several industry trends that will inevitably affect entrepreneurial Internet marketing practices. New and interesting opportunities have materialized for branding your products, attracting new visitors, and encouraging conversions in online sales.

With the introduction of Google's May Day and Caffeine search engine updates, as well as all sorts of digital media assets in the search engine results pages and real-time search, the Internet marketing game is changing. Thankfully, though, the fundamentals are still essentially the same.

What does this mean for you? It means links are still important, it means your regular SEO and PPC efforts should continue as always; however, it also means the introduction of some new efforts.

Social Media & Search - Where They Meet

Listening first hand to Google representative Maile Ohye, Senior Developer Programs Engineer, revealed tidbits of information with massive implications. In truth, you only hear what Google wants you to hear at an event like SES, nevertheless these were valuable gleanings.

Traditionally, Google uses the Internet's "link graph" to determine site authority and select appropriate pages for promotion to first page, first position search engine results, second place, etc. Using its plethora of search algorithms, Google determines what is relevant and what’s not, based on user queries.

As of late, however, the influx of social media and personalized results has changed the perspective on what a relevant query is to an individual user. Geo-location, user expertise, and most importantly what and whom the user is connected to, does and should affect what rankings appear for their search terms. A 45 year old mother of three, and a 14 year old male in Toronto shouldn't get the same results for "nice shoes Toronto." They are looking for different things. (Of course user queries can be more complex, and better examples exist - but you get the point.)

Social Search

Social media, like the traditional linking graph, operates on connections. Social search will look at social connections on the Internet, your "likes" and dislikes, and who your friends are, to determine search result relevancy.

Facebook is a massive social graph, and Google is as well. Subscribing to something in your Google reader or following people on Google Buzz are examples of things that Google will be taking from your social connections in order to personalize your search - a step that promises massive opportunities in the future. Google is still thinking about serendipity and quality and as such, they want to limit the idea to direct connections. Have no doubt though, social search is next.

Recently many entrepreneurs have been asking, "is Social Media Marketing worth business time?" As a business owner, if you are not involved in social media at the moment, it would be a good time to begin investigating an effective way to interact with your customers in that realm. Twitter accounts will work, as will blogs. The most important metric will remain the same though - bringing traffic through to your website. In short, social networks with proper use will not only drive traffic but in the future will also be considered by major search engines in ranking algorithms. So start building your Social Networking profiles, as their history may be considered as a ranking factor as well.

Site Speed & Site Architecture

When Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) introduced site performance as part of their Labs section, we knew something was up. Well the word is out; users are happier and more engaged with faster sites. Increased site speed means increased conversions, and to Google, happy users and good business is important.

Ranking algorithms do, and will continue to take site load speed into consideration when determining ranking position. This is why in GWT you can view "Page Speed Suggestions," and even have access to a browser application called "Page Speed", available for download on Firefox. Suggestions like enabling Gzip compression and combining external JavaScript, are provided to reduce server requests on page loading.

Though this is slightly more technical than we would normally address, here is a detailed list of things you can discuss with your web developer when looking at improving page speed and site architecture (care of our resident Website Architect Guru, Ezra Silverton):

1. global CSS + others when in need of files –use this instead of images when possible E.g. gradient, drop shadows (CSS3)
2. Using a Global JavaScript (.js) file
3. Optimize image for web (max. 50k / image)
4. Use CSS Sprites, where possible, minimize HTTP requests
5. Server‐side caching
6. Minimize number of page layouts, use Includes for common content e.g. Header & Footer

By using these techniques to build a faster and smoother website, you will be of benefit to both your visitors and to Google, which means of course better business and even more of it.

User Generated Content & Google's Caffeine and May Day Updates

The end-user oriented milieus of these trends are wafted by Google's desire to provide gripping content to its user-base in order to increase user engagement. Hence the Caffeine and May Day updates. Google's ranking algorithms for determining search engine ranking pages (SERPs) are continually updated in order to improve user experience. These two updates, in particular, help us understand Google's motivation in cleaning up its ranking pages, and more specifically how the future trends of Internet marketing are tied to these improvements. While the Caffeine update was an internal infrastructure adjustment which did change SERPs, it was done in an effort to speed up the process by which the Google index could be updated a single document at a time. This in turn allowed data centers to update up to 50% quicker and provided more scalability for the search giant. This change has resulted in quicker ranking updates, allowing you to improve your positioning in SERPs as soon as your site has been re-crawled.

May Day, implemented on April 28th 2010, is a rolling update that was introduced to eliminate spam. Long tail search queries (search terms with four or more words e.g. "no fat fettuccini alfredo and tomoto recipe" vs. "alfredo recipe" ) were allowing webmasters to create less than satisfactory content, and face sparse competition in attracting visitors, which obviously degraded the user experience. With May Day, long tail search queries are considered equal in value to "head queries", meaning that they will endure the same algorithmic rigours as their more competitive and shorter counterparts.

All of this was done on the premise that "content is king," says Maile Ohye. It is becoming clear that one more way that Google will be able to tell how authoritative your site is about its topic, will be the level of user engagement on your website. This move comes in the form of evaluating a site’s quality and relevancy based on speed, social reach, and engagement. And what better way to measure engagement than looking at user generated content around your site’s topic(s)?

Allowing user responses to your content in the form of blog commenting, forum creation, video submissions, re-tweets, and RSS subscriptions will help encourage your users to engage with your content, and further indicate to Google that your site is relevant. Not to mention that it provides further value to your site visitors. Opening up your content to allow these sorts of interactions is a necessary first step. If you haven’t already considered adding these features to your website design, or would like to consult web development professionals to find out what functionality is right for your business, contact us about Social Media Marketing.

The Long and Short (Tail) of It

Social media interactions/reach, site speed, and user engagement, will all likely play larger roles in SERPs of the near future. Yet the biggest concern is, and always will be content, especially where Google is concerned. At the end of the day, it is the quick and accurate results they provide that have made them successful.

Satisfy your user-base with engaging content and couple it with a fast website that provides avenues for user interaction. While the fundamentals remain solidly intact and important, accessibility is gaining in relevance, and having content that users want to read, respond to, question, and/or buy – this is the elemental key to web success.

This article was developed with the never-ending help and guidance of Lead Internet Marketer, Max Trunov, and 9th sphere's founder Ezra Silverton.

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