Google Combining Places and Organic Listings

It’s been happening for a while so this isn’t exactly new SEO news. But it’s been happening at a faster rate so it’s worth mentioning.

Google in many industries is now combining the Places / Maps listings with organic rankings. What does this mean to you? If you have a website and were used to double-dipping by having a listing in the Maps area and in the top 10 organic listings, now you’ll only have one.

So, now when you click on a link in the maps area you’ll be taken directly to your website and not to the Maps area. Listed on the right side of Google will be your business address and phone number. Popular local searches such as restaurants, auto repair shops and lawyers will be seeing this in many cities.

Is this good or is it bad? Well, probably both. If you’re used to having 2 listings in the top 10 of Google it may be bad since now you only have one. But, then again your listing will be more prominent this way so it may be good.

You’ll have to check your Google Analytics traffic and/or log files to see how your website is performing under the new changes.

Remember change is good and challenges are even better.

In Google Maps Your Physical Address Is Important

Google Maps has been re-branded to Google Places but visitors still called it “Google Maps”. When you go to the homepage at the top there is a link for Maps and not Places. So, what has changed in the last 6 months, you ask?

Well, I will tell you. Through my own research and observation I’ve noticed a distinct shift in Google Maps / Places toward delivering rankings of businesses with physical addresses that are close to the centers of cities.

Of course this is just one ranking factor, in my judgment. I have noticed however, websites that I have optimized several years ago that are in outlying areas from major cities having a harder time receiving decent rankings in the Maps area. Those that rank well are generally actually located within the city proper.

Those businesses in the surrounding cities may rank well for their smaller cities but not the cities around them including the major metropolitan areas. Is this fair? What is Super Duper business is located in an adjacent city and Podunk business while located in city center is listed ahead in the rankings?

Well, it is what it is, my friend. Maps or Places by inference is a geo-targeted search. Geography and geographical locations are important. GPS, latitude and longitude and geo-location are important in this algorithm.

Searchers have to get smarter when doing geo-location searches such as using counties or paging through the Maps section instead of just going with page one results. What would be helpful for me personally when doing geo searches is for the Google Maps interface to have one of those filters for distance such as “search for businesses within a 25 mile radius of Riverside, California” in which you get to pick the radius.

Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. I hope this makes sense.

Google as the Good Samaritan of the Corporate World

Google is known as being a pioneer in its field, bringing Internet search to millions, helping to start the World Wide Web revolution. Google’s informal corporate motto is “Don’t Be Evil” which sounds like something from a Dilbert cartoon.

Like all big corporations, this motto will come into question from time to time. But, what people cannot argue is that Google is attempting to be a good corporate citizen or large scale Good Samaritan, if you will.

For instance, the Going Green at Google program invests millions of dollars in renewable, alternative energy companies. And Google doesn’t just talk the talk. One of the largest corporate solar panel installations anywhere exists at their home in Mountain View, California.

Now, Google has taken a step towards helping out in the current housing crisis. According to Forbes, “News came this week that Google was putting $86 million into helping fund 480 low-income housing units across the Midwest and West Coast.”

Some may say that Google needs to invest its $30 billion in cash somewhere. But the Mountain View company could invest this cash anywhere. They are choosing to help out low-income people and senior citizens with their housing needs.

Google Maps has been a hit for a while as you see TV news broadcasts right and left showing weather patterns or locations of certain events using the Maps service. The products from Google fill a market need and a human need.

Other companies would do themselves a favor in modeling themselves after Google’s corporate citizenship example.

Google Tags for Google Places

If you missed the email, Google Places is about to change. There are 4 bullet points that Google wants us to know about. Three of the points have to do with “Account Updates,” opting into “Newsletters” and “Market Research” which has to do with participating in surveys.

To me, however, is the bullet point about a new product that is being offered called Google Tags. According to the Tags section of Google Places the new tags can be placed directly on the Maps. If a potential customer or lead scrolls over these yellow tags, they are given more information about the business.

Coupons, photos and other features of the business are just a mouse click away. It sounds like a simple change but it is one more inroad that Google is making into the Local marketplace.

Google in Stare Down Contest with Chinese Censorship Demands

Who will blink first, Google or the Chinese government. Most likely it won’t be the Chinese government. Like a high stakes poker game, the Chinese are tightening their grip on censorship through the search engine.

In turn, Google has alluded to perhaps pulling out of China altogether. Google is pushing for more openness and less restrictions. On the other hand, unlike in the U. S., Google is the biggest or most used search engine in town.

Baidu is the largest and most used search engine in China. It is robust and even offers features that Google doesn’t. One such example is Baidu knows which combines message board features such as asking questions to other registered users and having them answer. Baidu has also been used in China since 2000 and has only been around since 2006.

So, while Google doesn’t have the kind of leverage as the only game in town would in another country, it does has some leverage as the U. S. government is also trying to negotiate on Google’s behalf. But, not only would Baidu benefit from a Google pullout but Bing is waiting in the wings with a tiny portion of the Chinese search market that could expand rather quickly if there is indeed a hole to fill.

High Speed Broadband Is Everywhere in the US – Or Is It?

Image of the U. S. broadband map

Image of the U. S. broadband map

Many people assume that in the richest nation in the world, that high speed broadband is everywhere. In fact, the white areas on the map (pictured) is where no high speed Internet is available.

And if this isn’t bad enough, the U. S. is number 28 in the world in the speed of broadband connections with countries like South Korea, Japan, Sweden and The Netherlands leading the way. Fiber optic to home connections are standard in Japan and South Korea.

In the U. S. rural areas and remote locations suffer the most when it comes to lack of high speed connections. But, if we truly did have nationwide universal broadband, then doctors could make virtual home calls, students everywhere could go online for distance learning and emergency workers could exchange real-time video.

And astounding one-third of the adults in the U. S. do not use the Internet, which is mostly the older generation and mostly because they do not own a computer. Low income households only play a significant role here as well.

But the good news is that the U. S. Department of Commerce has decided to give grants to four states including California, Indiana, North Carolina and Vermont to start mapping exactly where broadband is needed. All states have applied for grant money and others should be receiving government money soon.

Yahoo Overture Keyword Suggestion Tool Officially Departed

For those of us who have been doing SEO since the 1990’s and feel rather nostalgic toward the evolution of search and the Internet its is with great remorse that the official Yahoo Overture Keyword Suggestion Tool has finally made it into the Otherworld Wide Web above. Of course, the Yahoo Overture Tool has been down for month as nostalgic types such as myself click on the Favorite every so often to see if there has been a breath left in this SEO assistant or not.

But, now the Tool redirects permanently to the Yahoo Small Business page to entice visitors to try search marketing with the beleaguered Web property. Yahoo finally figured out that the Overture Tool still had enough fans and traffic that it was of value to redirect this URL to a webpage to gain a little business.

Before Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery, the Overture Tool was really the only game in town. Yes, it was an imperfect tool as many of the results were out of order and sometimes conflicted wildly with the results of the other tools once they came online. But, the Overture Tool at least gave the SEO some direction as to if a particular keyword phrase was popular or not. Sometimes it was accurate and sometimes not, but at least phrases could be tested, verified and validated based upon the Overture Tool searches.

My wish for the Yahoo Overture Tool would have been to put up an historical page with a little detail about how it came about, number of visitors and why it was abandoned and just keep it there for archival purposes. But, Yahoo chose to go a different direction and simply redirect just for the sake putting something there rather than “Page Not Found.” It’s not poetic but it is what it is. Now, if they can ever get their Yahoo Publisher Network out of beta, that would be poetic.

Google Cloud, Client and Connectivity, Oh Yeah

The Google I/O conference is quickly coming upon us and the take at eWeek is that the search giant will hit heavy upon the points of cloud, client and connectivity. This is so new of an outreach program to developers that it didn’t even have an official name last year.

The cloud computing portion of Google’s presentation involves distributing the load of developers among different data centers on an on demand basis. Developers can use the vast Google infrastructure to run their applications on rather than using their own resources.

The client portion puts the power of development and the Web within the browser. Developers will have more power and control this way, which is a client-centered approach.

Connectivity is also an important aspect for developers especially in the mobile marketplace. The Google Android operating system will address some of the current connectivity issues.

Of course, there could be a few surprises at this year’s Google I/O conference. We’ll just have to wait and see what develops.

Do Inbound Links from Bad Neighborhoods Hurt

I’ve traveled around many webmaster, web design and SEO message boards to glean the conventional wisdom of the day and find out what current SEO technology is being used. And, in my travels I’ve heard that most SEO’s and others believe that inbound links from bad neighborhoods such as spam sites won’t hurt another website.

The conventional wisdom is that first Google says so. And, second, if links from other “bad” sites did hurt your site, then this opens up a whole Pandora’s box of competitors sabotaging each other’s websites. Surely, the search engines must protect a website against competitor sabotage?

But, a few months back I happened upon an article at SEOMoz that talked about how some of the most well known names in search engine optimization and marketing view ranking factors from the search engines. On most of the items there was community agreement on issues that were old hat to me.

But, way down at the bottom, the second from the last entry was a section called “Inbound Links from Spam Sites.” Unlike on the message boards, most of the industry professionals who weighed in on this issue agree that inbound links from bad neighborhoods can hurt a website.

Of course, many used qualifiers for their statements, but nonetheless, there it is. Now, this is something I have suspected for a while myself. I suspect the search engines have engaged in a little disinformation in this area in order not the panic the SEO community and set off rogue companies right and left who are bent on sabotaging their competition.

Why would the search engines want to publicly acknowledge that sabotage of competitors was possible? But, what is even more interesting to me is that there is no conventional wisdom regarding this issue in the SEO community. Depending upon which message board, forum, blog, or website you travel to the conventional wisdom can change. And, that itself is enough to give one pause.

Google WiMax Network Will Deliver Ads to Cell Phones

In March 2008, I had talked about the new Google phone based on the search giant’s Android software system. What was missing at that point was how Google intended to deliver the ads to their new cell phones.

But, now the picture has become a bit clearer as Google has joined Clearwire and Sprint in a consortium aimed at building a nationwide WiMax network. The theory is that cell phone users, when given a choice will choose Google for search, video, maps and other applications.

And, of course, along with these Google apps, ads will also be served. While this WiMax network is expected to take two years to build, Google, of course isn’t waiting this long to get into the game.

The search giant has convinced Sprint to drop Microsoft as their default cell phone search provider this summer and make the switch to the Larry and Sergey show. Ads served on cell phones, according to Google, convert twice as well as other ads.

So, search engine marketers had better be ready to delve into this new medium for targeting their clients’ businesses. When it comes to cell phone advertisements, in a very short while, Google will be saying, “Can you hear me now?”