7
Apr

Google likes speed

During PubCon Vegas 2009, Matt Cutts hinted that Google will start considering page load time in their organic search ranking algorithm in 2010.  Google already factors the time the pages on your site take to populate into its quality score, a metric used for Pay Per Click customers to reward higher quality sites with top placement and lower bid requirements.  Search engines care about the speed of your site because fast load times improve the user’s experience and increases their productivity, something you should be concerned with as well if you hope for loyal customers.

Google is obsessed with speed.  They have been not so secretly developing a next-generation architecture for Google’s web search, dubbed Google Caffeine, that aims to “push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions.” Google does not, however, want to leave your site in the dust.  In fact, they recommend several tools to improve your page load speed and thus the quality of your site.

Since 2006, Google Webmaster Tools has been offering up diagnostic information on your site such as crawl errors, checking robot.txt, and content issues.  Now, under the Labs tab, Google has added a Site Performance page that delivers “information to improve the speed of your site and create a faster experience for your users.”  Here you’ll find your average page load time, how it changes over time, and how it compares to other sites.  You can also view suggestions on how to improve your site’s performance based on a tool called Page Speed.

Page Speed is a Firefox Add-on that requires a popular developer extension called Firebug.  It performs several tests on a site’s web server configuration and front-end code.  This tool will analyze the performance of each page of your site and advise best practices to implement organized by a priority score: High Priority, Medium Priority, Working Fine or Low Priority, and Informational Only.  Page Speed will also give you an overall quality score out of 100.  For the more advanced, run the Page Speed Activity option to view a timeline of all browser activities, including network events and JavaScript processing.

Even though page load time has not traditionally been part of the natural search ranking equation, Google intends to factor speed into its organic search algorithm, and so you should factor it in to your SEO strategy.  Google is doing its part to create a faster world wide web, but they need the help of webmasters, site owners, and webhosting services to usher in a higher standard of web surfing.  With these new tools, now you can keep pace with search engine ingenuity and the demands of your site’s visitors and, ultimately, win the favor of both.

Come to the SEMA Online Marketing Conference on November 1st and ask questions about Google from the SEO experts.

7
Apr

Leveraging Customer Reviews on your Website

Riding the momentum of social media’s virtually unbridled growth, consumer reviews have become a powerful, proven tool for spiking company sales and are showing signs of becoming even more potent. Indeed, 72% of online shoppers say that web reviews and ratings on company websites and elsewhere influence their purchase decisions more than any other factor, according to the 2010 Social Shopping Survey authored by the e-tailing Group. And 39% of those same shoppers say that they read eight or more online reviews before making a purchase. Google sees the trend as so pervasive that the search titan recently announced it would begin featuring product and service ratings in its natural search returns—a major nod to the impact of word-of-mouth endorsements. Google also said that it plans to beef up its offering of full-text product reviews in its Google Product Search service.

“To kick off this program, we’ll be working with Bazaarvoice, a leader in the user reviews space,” said Kinnari Jhaveri, a spokesman for Google’s strategic partnerships division. “If you’re not a Bazaarvoice client, hold tight—we hope to add additional partners as well as a self-submission model soon.”

Meanwhile, businesses already successful with customer reviews are far from sitting on their laurels. New tools enabling consumers to simultaneously multi-post their reviews to Facebook, Twitter and most blogs are cropping up on company websites. Other businesses are embedding consumer reviews in marketing e-mails. And still other early adopters now encourage customers to post reviews in video format.

Bottom line: It’s no longer enough to post a spate of customer reviews on your website and call it a day. Firms seeing the best returns are becoming more sophisticated in their techniques. Fortunately, you can, too. Here’s a gameplan:

Incorporate Your Customer Reviews in Google Search, ASAP: During the coming months, Google plans to expand the number of service providers feeding reviews to its search engine. Google also plans to offer a self-submission model for those who are using a homegrown or relatively unknown review module.

Include Negative Reviews to Foster Authenticity: While many businesses shudder at the thought of including negative product or service reviews on their websites, many web marketers insist that negative reviews in the mix are essential. New research indicates they may be right. The 2010 Social Shopping Survey, for example, found that 38% of online shoppers distrust review domains that feature only positive reviews.

Bazaarvoice is the first customer reviews software company to partner with Google in its increased focus on customer reviews.

Use Creative Tactics to Solicit Customer Reviews: Generally, businesses need to spike interest in a new reviews domain before it takes on a life of its own. One of the easiest ways is to sponsor a contest giveaway. Offering the chance to win $100 to $500 just for submitting a review usually does the trick. Reaching out with a blast e-mail requesting reviews from all of the customers you’ve ever done business with also works. Other proven tactics include sending a follow-up e-mail requesting a review shortly after a purchase and honoring prolific reviewers on your site with special badges and other distinctions, such as points that can be redeemed for products or services.

Enable Reviewers to Effortlessly Multi-Post to Facebook, Twitter and Most Blogs:PowerReviews, one of the more popular review packages available, offers a tool that enables consumers to simultaneously post a review of your product or service to your website, Facebook and Twitter as well as to blogs using WordPress, Blogger, Live Journal and Windows Live Spaces. That’s so smart that you have to expect at least some of PowerReviews’ competitors are scrambling to offer something similar soon.

Encourage Video Reviews: While text reviews are still king, video reviews are gaining in popularity. In fact, 24% of online shoppers surveyed said that a video review had influenced a purchase decision, according to the 2010 Social Shopping Survey. A caveat: Offering hundreds of video reviews on your website may prove too costly in terms of increased bandwidth demands. An easy alternative is to link to any reviews of your product or service you might find on YouTube
as well as linking to shopping sites entirely devoted to offering video reviews, such as ExpoTV (). It also doesn’t hurt to encourage your customers to add video reviews of your products or services to these free services.

Include Customer Reviews In Marketing E-mails: Bazaarvoice offers a number of case studies on its site describing businesses that have generated increased sales in marketing e-mails by including consumer reviews right in
those e-mails.

Be Sure Your Reviews Are Mobile-Ready: Sophisticated users of mobile phones these days think nothing of sourcing reviews for products while perusing the merchandise at a brick-and-mortar location. Check with your web designer/IT department to be sure that your company’s reviews are easily accessible by mobile phone. You also may want to look for review software packages that help automate the process. Bazaarvoice, for example, offers a tool called MobileVoice that allows consumers to instantly download product reviews on their phones by inputting a keyword or product SKU.

Use Reviews for Higher Search-Engine Rankings: One of the welcome side benefits of a reviews domain is higher rankings in search-engine returns. Essentially, search engines reward websites that continually provide fresh, useful content to the web with a higher ranking. Consequently, it’s a good idea to look for review packages that optimize that reward. PowerReviews, for example, offers a tool called In-Line SEO, which ensures that consumers clicking to your website will find consumer reviews embedded in your product purchase page.

Shop the Latest Turnkey Customer Review Packages: PowerReviews (www.powerreviews.com; starts at $29) and Bazaarvoice (www.bazaarvoice.com; call for price) represent the high end of customer review solutions. You’ll want to evaluate these offerings first to get a general idea of the state-of-the-art in customer-reviews software. Afterward, you’ll be well-served to check out other packages, such as Review-Script (www.review-script.com; starts at $125), RatingSystem (www.ratingsystem.com; free-$100 per month) and KudosWorks (www.kudosworks.com; starts at $60 per year). For instance, KudosWorks—a positive-only testimonials service—may appeal to more traditional businesses still uneasy about running negative product or service reviews on their websites.