Yahoo! Answers As a Marketing Tool

Nice piece by Pablo Palatnik on Search Engine Journal covering Yahoo! Answers. As it so happens last night I was doing a search on SAT scores and the results on this Google search revealed how much Google appreciates Y! Answers.

I have not given much thought to Yahoo! Answers for some time, actually since they rejected a question I posed back when the product was released, but it's time to rethink the potential of the platform.
I added a button to my sidebar to remind me to use it!


Revisiting Jim Boykin's Blog

Jim Boykin updated the "Favorite Post's" section of his blog. Within those posts is content that helped earn Jim his elite status in the search blogging community.

Recall I mentioned back in April how Jim's blog is a must read. As you know Jim operates We Build Pages.

No one in the industry is as transparent as Jim and I for one appreciate the way he shares his fee structure and list of services. He has helped our business appreciate the value of our work.


Need A Logo Or Button?

Mashable posts a comprehensive list of logo and button makers.


Food Fight; Carl vs Jack

Ok it's a bit of topic but kind of fun.

CKE Restaurants Inc who own Carl's Jr is suing Jack In The Box over new television commercials they say misleads customers into confusing Carl's Jr. Angus hamburgers with meat from a cow's anus.

"The suit was filed in federal court in Santa Ana, California.

CKE argues in the suit that the commercials falsely imply that Angus beef burgers come "from the rear-end and/or anus of beef cattle by creating phonetic and aural confusion between the words 'Angus' and 'anus.'"

You wonder how the CKE lawyers got this by the company Board. You have to think the suit may be a stunt as well. Or not.

The other day one of my two teenagers declared he had not had french fries in a long time so we loaded up and drove through the local Carl's Jr. He and his brother ordered up large combo's but instead of the large drink I told the microphone to just give them a medium drink.
(yeah I'm a mean Dad)

We pull up and the teenager at the window handed me these gargantuan sized drink cups. I asked if they were medium and the kid assured me they were. No one needs that much soda with a meal, not in a day or in a week, trust me.

So it got us talking about the people who would order the large drink. Our conclusion supported the reason for the CKE lawsuit. A good portion of their customer base are ignorant.

Anyone who orders a 1,500 calorie combination meal with a 44 oz. soda might believe Carl's hamburger is cow butt if they heard "Jack" say it. Forget that Jack is a clown, he's as good as real to some.

What's funny about this lawsuit is thinking about the actual litigation. They will have to prove harm and that means trotting out actual cutomers who believed Jack! Can you imagine the theater? I can't wait.

In the meantime I hope Jack In The Box continues showing the commercial.


Mini-Cities Franchising Local Directories

Mini Cities.com is selling franchises to people interested in owning a hyper-local community directory. Franchisees will seek to attract local businesses to advertise on their community directory.

Sounds simple enough but possessing a pretty template with some neat graphics won't make success for the franchisee automatic.

Having a stand alone community directory to invite local merchants to advertise on is nice in theory but convincing a plumber, roofer or dentist to put a percentage of his or her marketing budget on such a site is tough work.

Judging by the franchise and set up fees Mini Cities charges, the franchisee will have to pick the merchant's wallet pretty clean for him to get a sponsored link or image ad.

Read Mini Cities franchise info;

"The Mini Cities franchise is a very low overhead franchise with no inventory and no high cost leases. The franchise fee ranges from $15,000 - $40,000 and overall startup costs are between $27,000 - $53,000 (this number includes costs for salaries which can often be avoided). Mini Cities provides initial training, marketing materials, and start up marketing for each directory launched. Mini Cities also offers ongoing support for our franchisees."

I wonder how many people looking to start a web based business will look bite. Anyone who does faces the same challenges local oriented search marketers face but with an added burden of having to convince the advertiser that your (single) site will deliver.

If you are not Google you cannot promise traffic to any degree. To that end it looks like Mini Cities may well have an agreement with Google. Take a look at all the pages Google has chosen to index from one of Mini Cities example sites. Pretty decent for a relatively new site, over 2000 pages and the first 40 results are fully indexed. A mix of indexed pages and supplemental results follow. Pretty good for a site registered in April 2006. Compare that love to ILoveNewportBeach.com results, a similar site with more history.

I wish all those buying into the program good luck, they will need it no matter how nice Google treats their site. On the surface selling local businesses on search marketing looks easy. The statistics support the trend, small businesses are putting more money on the net and the costs are substantially less than traditional marketing like newspaper, TV, radio or Yellow Pages. Most importantly the customers are using the Internet to search for local services!

Even so it's a tough sell. The local merchant has to be sold on the concept and the product. To the average local business person search marketing is the great unknown. They want to be there but they don't know where to start. Your job is made more difficult because traditional marketers pushing newspapers and Yellow Pages have pushed and pushed and worn the local merchant down. They don't like you before they ever see you. Finally, your pitch better be good because you are only going to get 30 seconds before their eyes gloss over. Save yourself the trouble at that point and politely excuse yourself.


Yahoo! Shuffles Search Results, I'm Gone

My main site SierraWebMarketing.com is not to be found but thank God I have a blog!

Yahoo! search results for "Sierra Web Marketing" returned this blog, a widget and a Yelp review.
Yahoo! is showing a YSM ad I took out under my name as a keyword so they know I exist. I used to show on the results pages but now I'm gone.

Yahoo has always liked my blogs and that's a good thing. They have long favored my Firefighter Blog, more so than Google who hosts Firefighter Blog on their servers.


Social-Local LocalGuides

LocalGuides.com hit the ground running with the kind of fanfare you can't buy, (really), here, here and here wow!
Now that the heavy hitters introduced the product lets have a look at the site.

I see it as a combination of YellowBot, Yelp and Bebo or MySpace. I'm still trying to figure it out and I confess confusion. I opened an account and searched from the home page for "Fresno" and it brought me to a page with a brief city bio and some sites they call "starter guides."

The starter guide for Fresno Furniture Shopping sent me to a page with lists of Fresno furniture stores on a portal like page. The page results appear auto-generated and while the algo did some decent guessing it stumbled on one of the sub-categories "dining sets." When clicked it sent me to a popular Asian-fusion restaurant here in town.
I understand the intent of Local Guides is to have humans (guides) intercede and make every category relevant but for now at least in this particular case there's a bug.

The local search results are provided by SuperPages which is fine but when you click a link from a search result you travel to SuperPages.com to get to the business information.
Example; The restaurant search results for Fresno brought up a comprehensive list of Fresno restaurants but when I clicked Toledos Mexican Restaurants I was sent to SuperPages instead of the restaurants website.
This is unlike any local search directory or IYP I've used and may turn people off with the extra step. It gives the site an appearance of being a proxy site for SuperPages.

If they could get the kind of user base Yelp enjoys the site could get traction. My concern is the steps required to get information. I may not consider it a first choice local search site like Local.com or YellowBot.com and it's not a pure review site like Yelp so what will drive me to use it?
I don't have an answer. AmericanTowns.com, DiscoverOurTown.com, Outside.in and others in that genre have failed so far to persuade me to visit often.

Best wishes to the crew at LocalGuides. It will interesting watching their progress.


New Google Maps Page Layout

Check out the new page layout on Google Maps. Google has de-emphasized the maps, moved the sponsored listings to the right under the (smaller) map and dedicated more space to the listed businesses.
The previous layout was claustrophobic and only showed a handful of business listings per page.

This new layout is more in line with other local search engines, easier on the eyes and much more inviting. Good job Google!


Facebook Classifieds and Sponsored Listings

Post your classified ads on Facebook! Mashable reports Facebook's classifieds are now open. From my area there are two classified ads running but I expect the page will fill quickly. What caught my attention is the "Sponsored Listings" links on the classifieds pages.

This venue will be valuable to local advertisers. I look forward to seeing their self serve ad center. In the meantime we'll test the classifieds and gauge the response.

It's not a Craigslist killer but that's not the intent. It looks like Facebook is constructing a market place with the user's interest in mind, not necessarily the bottom line. Very refreshing.

Great read on the subject by Muhammad Saleem of Pronet Advertising.

Update: I emailed Facebook regarding when their sponsored ad links will go live and received this response;

"Our Sponsored Listing section is not currently available. When it does
become available, you will be able to create a listing that you can
place in networks other than the one(s) you currently belong to for a
fee. Please keep an eye out for this feature in the next few weeks.
Sorry for any inconvenience in the mean time.

Thanks for contacting Facebook,"

This will be interesting. Pay to advertise your classified ad elsewhere on the site or will (outside) advertisers be able to open a pay per click account?
Facebook has licensed the tech to do it (from LookSmart last summer) so I assume it will be an open system for all advertisers. LookSmart's AdCenter now supports geo-targeting as seen here on their tech partner NBCSearch.com's advertiser center.
The stage appears set for buying PPC ads on Facebook. Pizza venders everywhere are
(or should be) rejoicing!


Bill Gates Signs Yellow Pages Death Cert.

Bill Gates presented the company's Strategic Account Summit this week and the software visionary offered his vision on the future of search.

As usual Greg Sterling has the best summary of the presentation.

I love this quote about print Yellow Pages;

"Yellow pages are going to be used “less and less.” Gives plumber example: “Presentation you’ll get will be far better than what you’ll get in the [print] yellow pages.”

Yellow pages usage “among people under 50 will drop to near zero in the next five years.”

I'm sending this one to my clients who keep insisting they need to continue paying the Y.P's thousands per year.


Mashable: Build A Brand Through Social Networks

It does serve to get a name out quickly. Zero to sixty on the net on record time. Mashable's Kristen Nicole explains how social networks can help build a brand. The "secret" is out now, it's a tactic we use.
Kristen offers some great sites to consider including a couple I've not considered.
I would offer a couple she did not mention.
American Towns
More social networking and review sites to consider here. (on the sidebar)


City Focused SEM vs. National Local SEM

Greg Sterling wrote a very nice article on Search Engine Land today covering SEM (search engine marketing) for SMB (small, medium business). Greg names some leading local SEM companies and defines the collective service they provide in part.

The concept is simple, they take your business information and plug it into search engines and directories. Pay per click is a central component and each has a variation on the theme. I have reviewed a few of these outfits in the past, spent time on each of the sites and have formed an opinion on most.
My objective reaction is they all provide a nice service but lack the one thing required for best practice local SEM, they are not local themselves.

When RH Donnelley purchased LocalLaunch.com last year it signalled the bureaucratization of the genre. YellowBook, SuperPages and Websitepros joined suit. Greg reasons Google, MSN and Yahoo! may take interest in one of the remaining local oriented SEM firms listed.

It's all one in the same to small business owners. Be it Yahoo!, ReachLocal, or Natpal the local business person reasons they are all the same, far away, confusing and impersonal. Greg points to Office Live, Microsoft's SMB website building product. I would love to see how many SMB's are finding their way to adCenter from the site building center. How are they learning keyword bidding management, are they following the tutorals? Most likely not to the scale the SEs need.

I've yet to meet a small business owner that understands the nuances of PPC. Those that have made their way to AdWords never got to the memo on geo-targeting. Will adding an SEM boutique help Google or Yahoo! help the small businessman? I don't know but my guess is it won't. Not because they won't offer a valuable service but because small business needs to be sold on SEM personally.

The relationship between local search marketer and client must be personal to attain the best results. Set and forget will not do, I'll argue someone in New Jersey cannot efficiently run a search marketing campaign for a florist in Sacramento California.
The best person to run a search marketing campaign for the Sacramento florist is a marketer in Sacramento. Ultimately this is where search marketing for small (local) business is headed.

Consider these facts in helping understand the scope of small business;

"Census data show there were 5.7 million firms with employees and 17.6 million without employees in 2002 (and 18.6 million without employees in 2003). Applying the sole proprietorship growth rates to the nonemployer figures and similar Department of Labor growth rates to the employer figures produces the 24.7 million figure. Small firms with fewer than 500 employees represent 99.9 percent of the 24.7 million businesses, as the most recent data show there are 17,000 large businesses.

That's a whole lot of small businesses and arguably an unlimited base of advertising clients. While it's still very early in the SEM for SMB game I suggest the future is at the ultra-local level.

What will we call them?

Mom and Pop SEM
Super Local SEM
Hyper Local SEM
Neighborhood SEM
City Focused SEM
Backyard SEM
Hip pocket SEM
Regional SEM services

An perfect expample of city-focused SEM is LocalMN.com. Owner Paul Jahn states on his FAQ page he accepts clients from outside Minneapolis I don't think he would mind being characterized and city-focused. I consider my company Sierra Web Marketing in the same category though I am more Mom and Pop at this point.
We'll soon see more Sierra Web Marketing and LocalMN.com "regional SEM" shops come online. At the moment we are a very small group.


More UGC Sites Favored By Google

Last week I highlighted some of the User Generated Content (UGC) sites Google now favors as an enhancement to listings on Google Maps.
Today I noticed a few more including;

Mapufacture.com (GeoRSS Aggregator)
Booking.com (Priceline Property)
VResorts.com (Virtual Tour Aggregator)
XSWeb.com (Resolves to Global Assistant)
SFInj.com (Hotel Info Aggregator)
Smugmug (Photo Site)
Road Runner (Google Search Partner)
RCI Destinations (Timeshare Reviews)

Added to the sites listed previously;

Travelandleisure.com (not really a UGC site)
Propsmart.com (real estate)
KeyHole.com (Google property)

It's a little confusing trying to figure out what Google considers User Generated Content but it is clear they like mapping sites. Major partners like AOL (Time Warner) get considerable play as well.


Digg Bows To The Dorm Room Taliban

I read with interest about the latest uprising by the Digg Nation. Digg.com founder Kevin Rose blogs this morning how he weighed his options over allowing proprietary HD-DVD code to be posted on his site.

One man against the horde, what was he to do? Good thing he doesn't have any 6th Century Buddha statues at the company headquarters!

N.Y.Times New Page For Small Business

NYTimes.com today unveiled a new page in the their business section for small business. The NYTimes.com new Small Business section is a very nice portal full of general and specific topics helpful to new and seasoned small business operators.

NYTimes.com press release offers;

"The new Small Business section includes weekly columns and features from Times journalists and trusted third party sources, including AllBusiness.com, Inc. Magazine and SmallBusiness.org, as well as a comprehensive Resource Center guide for readers seeking information on specific topics like management, innovation or legal issues.

"This new section will help small business owners make better decisions, work smarter and keep up with the latest information related to their field and business community," said Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and general manager, NYTimes.com. "Advertisers have long been asking for ways to reach the small business community and now we've given them a powerful new platform that aggregates all of the great reporting we do in this area as well as carefully selected partner content."


It's A Minefield Out There

According to Forbes.com in an article titled "Condemned To Google Hell" online diamond merchants MySoltaire.com and Skyfacet.com lost ranking and business due to violations of Google's rules of the ranking game.

Skyfacet apparently paid someone to optimize the site for $35,000 and the SEO firm foolishly duplicated content, a big no-no and Google banished Skyfacet from the front page results which is the same a shotgun blast to the stomach, you're dead.

Mysoltaire.com suffered from a different malady;

"Amit Jhalani, the site's vice president of search marketing, says he figures that cost his business $250,000 in sales, and he says he still doesn't know why the site's pages got Google's thumbs-down.

"So many of the rules are vague," Jhalani says. But he admits that he tried gray-area tactics like buying links from more established sites to juice his traffic. "For a small site like ours, you have to stay right on the edge to compete with sites with bigger budgets," he confesses.

Jhalani says he removed the links that may have offended Google, but the site remained in Google's gulag. Jhalani wrote Google asking the search engine to reappraise MySolitaire; nothing happened. Since Google ranks sites partially by the quality of sites that link to them, he painstakingly contacted every site that seemed to be of low quality and linked to MySolitaire, asking them to remove their links, sometimes even sending cease-and-desist letters. Finally the site returned to Google's main index last June, though Jhalani has no way of knowing just what finally caused Google's algorithm to forgive him."

Cease and desist from linking? Amazing. Can you potentially be sued for linking to someone? This would open a whole new can of worms that goes against the intent of the Internet I think.

I doubt Google intends or intended for it to come to this but has it?

My takeaway from the Forbes article is this.

  • Follow Google Webmaster Guidelines.
  • Don't buy links.
  • I'm not charging enough if others are charging 35k for that kind of service.