Thursday, May 14, 2009

Google's Fail Whale Effects on Website Traffic

As if we needed any more indication on the importance of organic search to our ability to drive local traffic, take a look at what today's Google outage meant for our traffic from around 8am PST to about 9am PST.


Interestingly enough, our Chairman and Co-Founder, Ben T. Smith, IV, was speaking at the Orrick Total Access Conference and mentioned a Google network failure as one of his "two big unreasonable worries."

While you can see the dip in traffic above, fortunately our network of over 750K members bypass Google and other search engines and come directly to our site to update their listings and connect with their customers. Also, while Google dominates search, a fair number of merchants and consumers still use Yahoo! and MSN.

As for membership joins, we experienced a drop of about a third. Traffic seems to have stabilized for now, but for one day, one of our Chairman's worst worries was realized. His other big unreasonable worry? A consumer credit market failure....

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P.S. Thanks, Ivan Lanin for the whale!

Friday, May 8, 2009

How To Do Local SEO in Five Minutes (Or So)

We're very excited to kick off our Guest Blogger Series with Andrew Shotland, a consultant and expert on local search optimization and small business marketing.

by Andrew Shotland

SEO, the art and science of ranking well in search engines, is one of those things that is easy to learn but hard to master, so let’s focus on the easy part. You’ve got a website and it’s not ranking in Google so well for whatever search term you are coveting. So what do you do?

Here are some (hopefully) simple things you can do, or even better tell someone else to do, to get your SEO strategy in gear:

1. Figure Out Your Target Audience
Until you know who you are targeting there is not much point in doing SEO. What words are your potential customers searching with when you want to be found? What are different modes are they in when they are searching? Are they ready to buy? Are they just doing research? Are they big spenders or are they cheapskates?

In general pick terms that match up with your service, that you think will convert well (conversion is a another five minute discussion altogether btw) and that have good search volume. To get an idea of search volume use Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool which can be found here:

Once you come up with your target keyword list…

2. Update Your Page Titles
The page title or “title tag” is perhaps the most important element of SEO. These are the words that appear at the top of your web browser when you are on a page. They are also the words that show up in the blue links in Google.

Put the search terms you are targeting in your page titles. In general keep the titles as brief as possible while at the same time making them appealing to searchers. No easy trick. Put the most important keywords at the beginning of the title. Don’t worry about getting this perfect the first time as these are very easy to change and Google usually reacts to these changes quickly. And if your website developer tells you these are really hard or expensive to change, get a new website developer.

3. Make Each Page Title Unique
It is also important that all of the pages on your site have unique page titles. A quick way to see if you have more than one page with the same title is to do the following search in Google: intitle”the words in the title”

The results of this search will show all of the pages in Google that have these words in the title. Once you identify these problem pages you can update the titles to make them unique.

And make sure you add your city name to the titles as a lot of people search for your service in your city.

It also couldn’t hurt if you added some text to the actual page that uses the keywords you are targeting as well, in both the body of the text and the <h1> tag, which is typically the headline of the page. If you don’t have a page that targets the keywords you are using, add a new page that does.

You also should check the meta descriptions tags of each page to make sure those are unique as well.

4. Add a Few Internal Links
The number of links a page gets from its own site and which pages link to it matters. The home page is the most important on the site and so the pages that are linked to from the home page are also important. Figure out which pages you want to rank the most (and don’t say all of them) and add links from other pages to these pages. Make sure you use relevant keywords in the text of those links. For example if you want to rank the page for “pizza” use the word “pizza” in the text of the links that go to that page. Try not to use the exact same phrases in each link to make it look more “natural”. For example in some of the links use “best pizza” or “man that’s a helluva a pizza”.

5. Add Your Address to Every Page
Ideally every page should have your address and phone number. This is helpful for users but it also reinforces your location to the search engines. If your business has multiple locations then you may want to create a separate page for each location or at least a single page that lists all locations. Make sure you link to these pages from as many pages as possible on the site. It would probably be a good idea to list as many location names as possible on the home page too.

6. Claim Your Profile on Merchant Circle, Google Local Business Center, Yahoo Local, etc.
There are a huge number of yellow pages-like sites that allow you to update your business information for free. These sites get a lot of traffic and tend to rank well. At the least you should go to each one, claim your profile and make sure they are linking to your site. You may be surprised at how much business you can get from these free listings. Here’s a list of a few of them:

7. Make a Video
And I am not talking about a multimillion dollar production. Ask your kid to point the camera at you and start talking. Explain your service and try to be charming. Mention your website a lot. Then upload it to YouTube and every other free video site and title the video with your top keywords (e.g. “Best Pizza in Pleasanton”). Make sure your website is linked to from your profile. Then link to these video pages from your site with the keywords in the link text. You will be amazed at how easy it is for these pages to rank for your search terms.

If you want to do something more professional, there are a number of services that can help you including,, , and .

8. Add a Blog To Your Site
A blog is just a simple way to add pages to your website. A good, or even bad, web developer should be able to set up a simple blog for you in a few minutes. If you don’t want it super customized it shouldn’t cost that much. Once it’s up start writing. I am not talking novels or even journalism. I am talking keywords. If you want to rank for “Pizza in Pleasanton” write a blog post called “Pizza in Pleasanton: What’s Cooking Tonight At Joe’s Pizza”. Go to and add your blog’s URL to Google’s blogsearch engine. Now everytime you write something on the blog it will instantly be added to Google, and each of those posts has a chance of ranking for the term you are targeting.

9. Make Sure You Don’t Have Any Technical Issues
There are a number of technical issues that could be preventing your site from ranking. An easy way to identify them is to sign up your site to Google Webmaster Tools at By copying a short line of code to your site you can get an idea of some of the common problems that Google is having with it. Google provides you with some detail about the problem. There is not much you yourself can likely do about these problems, but you can at least show them to your website developer or a SEO guy and ask him/her to figure it out.

10. Get Links
Now none of this stuff will work very well if you don’t have any links to your site. The big search engines look at links from other sites as a sign of quality and trust. So you should spend the remainder of your five minutes thinking about what other sites you think you can get links from. Here are some of the obvious ones:
- Chambers of commerce/local business groups
- Local business directories/Local newspaper site
- Friends who have sites (including your kid’s blog)
- Partners/Vendors

There are hundreds of other ways to get links like writing articles for other sites, sending out press releases, adding your business info to social media sites, making a fool of yourself in public, etc.

It’s important to understand that SEO is not a one-time thing just like running a TV ad campaign is not a one-time thing. It’s a marketing tactic like any other. And as more people use the Web to find local services, SEO could become one of the more important components of your marketing plan. So get familiar with it today so you can master it tomorrow.

Ok so maybe that took more than five minutes but half the battle of marketing is just getting your attention right?

If you have any more questions about SEO or Pleasanton, but not about proctologists, please stop by my blog at or drop me a line at

MerchantCircle's Guest Blogger Series Continues with John Jantsch in 2 weeks.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

MerchantCircle Guest Blogger Series

As technology, the web, and the tools to drive more customers to your business evolve, we’ve compiled a group of experts in various fields to help you navigate the changing field of play. Over the next 3 months (starting in May), be sure to check back at the beginning and middle of each month for a new guest contributor post. We’d like to introduce the first group of contributors:

Andrew ShotlandLocal SEO Guide - I currently provide clients with SEO and SEM consulting services. I specialize in local search engine optimization but I work on all types of sites. Clients include large media and e-commerce companies, Web 2.0ish start-ups and even my local cabinet guy (I got a great deal on custom cabinets).
Previously I was head of product and business development for Insider Pages where I developed a SEO program that attracted over 3 million monthly unique visitors almost solely via SEO. In a past life I was GM of

John JantschDuct Tape Marketing - John Jantsch is a marketing and digital technology coach, award winning social media publisher and author of "Duct Tape Marketing - The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide".

He is the creator of the Duct Tape Marketing small business marketing system and Duct Tape Marketing Authorized Coach Network.

His Duct Tape Marketing Blog was chosen as a Forbes favorite for small business and marketing and is a Harvard Business School featured marketing site. His blog was also chosen as "Best Small Business Marketing Blog" in 2004, 2005 and 2006 by the readers of Marketing Sherpa.

Dane CarlsonBusiness Opportunities Weblog Network - I own the Business Opportunities Weblog Network, the most popular niche business blog network.

Dane Carlson's Business Opportunities Weblog is the premier blog of ideas and opportunities for small business entrepreneurs and is one of the most widely read business blogs. In over ten thousand posts since 2001, author Dane Carlson has proven the notion that "ideas are cheap," and pushed hundreds of inventors, entrepreneurs and small scale capitalists towards their dream of owning and running their own business.

Samuel BornsteinKean University School of Business - For the past 30 years, Professor Bornstein has been a tenured Professor of Accounting and Taxation, and for the past 32 years a CPA and Consultant in public practice for Bornstein & Song, CPAs & Consultants.

Since 2000, Professor Bornstein has researched the causes and solutions to Small Business Failure and Financial Literacy. His research evolved into a study of Small Business and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis. Prof. Bornstein’s research determined the most effective content for “Specific and Immediate Financial Guidance” as a solution to this crisis. His focus has been to research "Artificial Intelligence" as an effective delivery system for Financial Literacy Education for Small Business, Adults, and K-12.

Gail GardnerGrowMap - Gail has been involved in the computer industry since the late 1970s, originally servicing hardware, and as a Project Manager for data processing centers, banks, and retailers.

Since 2003, she has worked exclusively in online marketing, specializing in optimizing blogs and ecommerce sites, pay per click advertising, and Local Search listings.

I hope you will find the guest blog post rewarding and educational.

Community Relations