I spotted an interesting post from iCrossing via their Twitter account today. It’s about some rumours that are flying round the web on the topic of Google adding a breadcrumb trail beneath each search results on the SERPs. A grand idea and one that should help to give users an insight into the structure of your website before they even visit it (it’d be even better if each stage of the breadcrumb was clickable), however some site owners may not be so pleased.

How pleased they would be would depend on exactly how Google implemented something like this. If they can work out your site structure via the main sections, or via the page title (which would seem to be how the example on iCrossings blog shows it) then it will be a good thing for most site owners. But if they worked it out from directory structure (for example) that would cause a whole world of pain for site owners everywhere.

I think it’s most likely that this will be like Site Links (the links to main sections of a site that only appear under the ‘chosen few’ results that deserve it) and won’t be applied to all websites on the result pages. It does show the power of Google though as changes like this will always hurt somebody who has a legacy or large site and can’t afford to change it to optimise it for the new SERPs. A good reminder of why pragmatic design is so important when building a site, particularly when thinking about the structure and how that may work as your website grows over time (don’t forget your content plan)!

So we’re officially in a recession now (according to official government figures via the BBC) with no sign of things getting better anytime soon. Marketing budgets are being slashed by many and redundancies are spreading like wildfire. So, if you want to either make the most of your marketing budget, or if you’re in marketing and you want to hold onto your job, where should you be putting your money in online?

It’s pretty simple to be honest, just keep spending but make sure it’s working for you!

Something I’ve been doing for many years is capping all my online marketing spend through the use of a CPA (cost per acquisition) limit. Work out what you can afford to spend per sale/referral/lead and still make a profit, optimise your use of the various marketing channels available to keep your cost per acquisition under the limit, and then keep spending!

Hard to justify in the current climate? Just build a business model to show your boss (or yourself) which demonstrates the returns available by keeping spend tied to a CPA.

This is one of my bugbears, especially with regards to PPC (paid search). If it’s working for you, your campaigns are optimised continuously, and you’re coming in under your CPA, then why not throw more money at the campaign? Yes, you have to be diligent to ensure that your CPA limits are adhered to, but once you have it embedded as a process in your organisation it’s not that difficult to grow your spend and as a result your return.

So where should the marketing spend go (in online)? Well, into channels which are measurable and where you can track the returns. Paid search, affiliate marketing, banners (yes, you can work to a CPA if you use the right tools), social media campaigns, viral and of course natural search (search engine optimisation). Of course SEO deserves a different CPA to other channels as it’s naturally cheaper to do as long as you stick to the principles and don’t get sold by an agency looking to charge you the earth for something that costs nothing but common sense.

Search engine marketers aren’t having an easy time with Google these days.

Google have made a change to the search results interface which aims to make it more Digg/Wiki like by allowing users to move results up and down the list, delete sites from a results set and even add sites into a set of results.

For the user this is actually a really nice piece of functionality as it allows you to tailor search results to make them more relevant to you, I’m assuming it’s all stored in your web history so future searches keep the customisation.

What this does do is make it really hard for a search engine marketer to know whether what they see as the top ten results on Google is what the users are seeing. In most cases the answer is probably no now.

I think it’s a great move though and could actually help to focus the search engine optimisation industry on making pages more relevant through improving content and engaging users as that is what will encourage them to keep a result high up their list!

Full details on the Google Blog.

Sometimes even a mega-company like Google casn get beaten to the mark with a new piece of functionality that they should really be providing themselves. The reasons for this? Perhaps they overstretch themselves with their range of products and can’t focus enough to add the bells and whistles we’d all like? Or maybe they get a product to the point where it gets traction and keeps acquiring users and then leave it open for the rest of us to add the bells and whistles functional pieces?

Whatever the reason, there are occasions when great additions are made to their services which they aren’t responsible. The latest of these that I’ve come across is something called Glync which has been created by a company called Virante.

It’s a Firefox plugin which grants them access to store your data from Google Webmaster Tools to enable them to show you a graph showing the history of incoming links to your site and how that changes over time. An extremely useful tool, but in my opinion one which should be a standard feature of Googles webmaster tool set.

How long will this plugin be useful? Until Google decides to offer it themselves I’d say. That said, it is a very nice piece of functionality and the free version is most useful.

According to SEMPO (the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization) it does.

Apparently money is shifting into search and away from print and classified at an increasing rate. The reason for this I’d surmise is that search is being seen as a way to follow consumers rather than just trying to put an ad in front of them. It’s now widely accepted that most markets have a need to be active in search so it’s natural for spend to shift towards it.

Key findings from the SEMPO study are:

  • The North American SEM industry grew from $9.4 billion in 2006 to $12.2 billion in 2007, exceeding earlier projections of $11.5 billion for 2007.
  • North American SEM spending is now projected to grow to $25.2 billion in 2011, up significantly from the $18.6 billion forecast a year ago.
  • Marketers are finding more search dollars by poaching budget from print magazine spending, website development, direct mail and other marketing programs
  • Paid placement captures 87.4 percent of 2007 spending; organic SEO, 10.5 percent; paid inclusion, 0.07 percent, and technology investment, 1.4 percent.
  • Google AdWords remains the most popular search advertising program, but both Google and Yahoo sponsored search spending has decreased from a year ago

Here’s how the spend is shifting:

Shifting to search is great for all the SEO agencies out there but is also going to make their jobs a lot harder as they have to work for their money to get clients to the top of the listings. As competition grows, so it becomes more difficult to get dramatic improvements in position, some SEO agencies have had an easy ride in recent years and that’s going to get harder.

Other developments will also affect SEO such as the introduction of semantic search technology (as announced by Yahoo recently). Developments such as this could change the rankings entirely and again will mean the agencies have to stay ahead of the game and work hard (not a bad thing).

Marketing Sherpa has quizzed 420 top digital marketing experts about what they feel are the most effective methods for advertising online and which give the best ROI.

Search engine optimisation came top, this is not surprising as the ROI is incredible. Some changes take such little effort and can return such amazing gains that SEO will always be the top in a survey like this.

Second came behavioural targeting for adverts, slightly more surprising this one as I wasn’t aware the technology was quite there yet to get a better ROI than other ways of advertising such as paid search.

Paid search (or PPC) showed quite a drop in confidence in delivering ROI, however marketers said that the biggest increase in budgets would be in the paid search arena.

And the biggest trend in measurement for this year was voted to be the integration of search and email analytics with your standard onsite analytics thus completing the tracking of the customer journey. Integrating offline and online campaign tracking came second here, now that’s a holy grail and I don’t believe will be truly possible for a year or so longer.

Interesting study; more available here.

A report has been released by Anderson Analytics as the results of a survey of the Marketing Executives Networking Group (a 1,700 strong network of marketers at VP level or higher). The survey asked what marketing concepts these executives thought were going to be the top trends and concepts in 2008.

Worryingly, when asked which marketing concepts they felt were going to be most important the second highest answer turned out to be SEO!

Now, I don’t know whether marketers are unsure what search engine optimisation is or perhaps this was a particularly ‘offline’ group of marketers, but SEO is already hugely important and in my eyes if you haven’t grasped that yet then it’s a bit late. Saying that it will be the second most important concept next year is amazing to me. It’s been part of my life for 12 years and is really just part of the routine I go through for any digital project.

Here’s the rest of the list:
If you had to ask me what some of the concepts I thought were important for next year were (in digital), I’d say:

  • Offline/online translation (getting your offline campaigns translated in a seamless manner onto digital media, something that really isn’t being done very well at the moment)
  • Viral (campaigns should always be thought of as viral if they touch the web)
  • Widgets (cross pollination of marketing campaigns online using widgets)
  • Social media (yes, it’s huge this year, but next year should see it mature and the launch of OpenSocial will make it more important than ever)
  • Banners (controversial one this but we are now at a stage where banners should become more like widgets and really start to become properly engaging, whether this will happen I’m not sure as most agencies who design banners aren’t particularly forward thinking)

Underpinning all of those, and every other online marketing concept, should be SEO.

What do you think the key concepts of 2008 will be?

Okay, so Google are still miles ahead on market share in the search world. Below is the latest graph from Compete.com showing just how commanding a lead they have.
However, Compete have some interesting insight into quality rather than reach. Quality in search is rarely discussed and whenever it has been Google has always been assumed to be in the lead there as well due to their massive research and development capabilities.

That may be the wrong assumption though!

Compete have looked at a metric they call search fulfillment. They came up with this because even though there are many searches taking place on the major engines, not all result in a click on a result and a referral. In fact, according to their data out of approx 7.5 billion monthly searches only 5 billion result in a referral.

So, if Google looks like the leader from a search volume point of view, how about from a fulfillment point of view. The graph below shows an interesting picture…
So Google is not getting the referrals the volume suggests it should.

Yahoo seems to do really well from this which I find strange as the relevancy of results in Yahoo never seems as good to me as Google. Of course there are many other possible reasons for this, a couple being that the figures may exclude clicks on paid links and that Google returns much more useful snippets in the results than any other engine often negating the need to click through.

Of course Google’s figures could be vastly inflated by all the agency types, SEO’s and webmasters out there who perform daily searches to check their sites rankings without ever clicking on anything. It would be really interesting to understand those volumes!

A new search engine has launched to not much fanfare and pretty stealthily called iRazoo. It’s interesting to me as it’s doing a similar thing to Mahalo in that it’s using the input of users to qualify search results.

Rather than go down the Mahalo route where specialists are paid to put together search results, iRazoo is allowing users to recommend a search result while they are surfing. When users click a search result it’s opened in a new window, this could annoy a lot of users as pop-ups (even user activated) are generally a no-no these days. That’s purely a user interface issue though and I’m sure they will change it if they get enough feedback requesting it. There’s a bar across the top of the new window asking whether you recommend the site and allowing comments to be left as well.

As an incentive users are able to earn points for their recommendations. However you need many thousands of points to get any meaningful prizes (camera or mp3 player) and so it could take quite some time.

It’s an interesting concept and one that could work quite well if it was designed with the user in mind. At the moment it’s a fairly clunky and unwieldy process with the pop-up windows and the bar across the resulting websites. A few small changes could fix that though and a bit of usability testing, and they may need to do this to gain traction with users.

Of course, it is possible to game the site a little by recommending your own websites, but I’m sure (or at least hope) they will have thought of that. If they can gain the much needed traffic and signed up members then it should even itself out anyway.

The idea of the ‘crowd’ providing intelligence to search results is a great one and in my opinion beats the Mahalo idea of specialists. Crowd wisdom is a far better way to measure the value of something and as such this could have potential with a little better execution.

Google’s Webmaster Central blog has an interesting post detailing their position with regards to the practice of creating startpages. Startpages are webpages with a lot of links about a specific topic. The startpages are hosted on a startpage domain and each separate startpage is maintained by an individual webmaster. The links on startpages are usually ordered by categories related to the topic of the page.

Great! They’re useful starting points on the web containing a load of links and content relevant to what you are looking for.

But, can this practice be misused to spam search engines? Yes, of course it can. Create yourself a load of startpages with links into your own websites and services, make them keyword rich and highly optimised for search engine crawlers. There you go, a load of doorway pages which don’t sit on your own domain and therefore don’t get looked on as SEO spam.

A winning formula for unethical SEO’s everywhere. This practice already exists and I’m amazed that Google hasn’t taken the opportunity to frown upon this practice in this article on their blog! They do mention that link farms are against their guidelines, but no mention of whether they’ll be looking to filter them out or not.

Most savvy web folk will know better than to try that, but there are bound to be some who will see Google’s endorsement of startpages as a sign that they can try some less ethical practices to gain traffic and SEO link equity.

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