Google Places Allows Spam Reviews

Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Brooklyn, Local SEO | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Unfortunately, Google is failing to crack down on fraudulent spammers who post negative reviews about their competitors. This particular spammer is a local cabinet maker who posted two dozen 1-star reviews about its competitors’ businesses, all on the same day. And on the same day, gave itself a 5-star review. It’s pretty dumb, because it makes it really obvious who the culprit is.

Google allows users to report inappropriate comments. Several of the companies affected have reported the spammer. But, Google has done nothing about it. Owners have the opportunity to respond to to negative reviews, and can point out that the comment is spam. But, if Google does not take down the review, the affected company’s average star rating remains compromised. In fact, one of the affected companies is a client of mine. Because my client is honest and does not inflate his listing with fake reviews, he has a modest number of reviews, all positive except for the fraudulent 1-star review from his competitor. That 1-star review brings his average rating down to 3.5 stars. That’s what you see when my client comes up on Google Places. Maybe some potential customers will take the time to click for more info and see that the one negative review is a fake. But most won’t. Why would they, when several other cabinet makers with higher averages appear in the local search results?

I warn all of my clients of the dire consequences of trying to trick the search engines. “You WILL be caught,” I always say. So, it’s really frustrating to watch this one company get away with it. It’s been two months now, and Google has done nothing so far.


Should I Re-Brand?

Posted: January 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Google Page Rank, SEO | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

I have noticed that many sole proprietors brand themselves. And re-brand themselves. Is this a good idea?

I’m going to address this from an SEO perspective. And it does take careful consideration. Building your current site’s ranking took time. You don’t want to throw that away because you thought of a new business name you like better. If things have gone relatively well, other sites link to you, and maybe not just to your home page– maybe you’ve got valuable “deep links” to your other content. Search engines have found you and indexed your pages, and are even taking into account the age of your domain.

Let’s backtrack for a minute though. If you are a sole proprietor or sole practitioner, and plan to stay that way, do you really need to brand yourself in the first place? Maybe you should build a reputation for your real name, instead of a brand name. The brand name may sound outdated within a year or two, if trends change, or if your business goes in another direction and, you will find yourself in this re-branding pickle.

Assuming you already went the brand route, and realize now that you chose the wrong brand name, what now? Do not have any illusions here– when you change your domain name, your search engine ranking will be affected, probably for several months, but hopefully there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. Think carefully, and choose a new domain name that can be with you for a long time, even if you narrow or widen your business focus, or alter your business in some other unforeseeable way.

  1. Go through your old site, and make sure you have a record of each and every URL.
  2. Go to Yahoo.com and type in link:http://www.yourolddomain.com and find out who is linking to your old site, and what pages they are linking to. Use the dropdown menu to Show Inlinks “Except from this domain” to “Entire Site.”
  3. Think about whether you are going to use the same URL structure (will your about page still be called about.php or is it going to be called about-our-company.php?).
  4. Launch your new site.
  5. In your server’s .htaccess file, use 301 redirects to re-direct each old URL to each new one, or if file structure remains the same, you can redirect the whole site to the new domain in one fell swoop. More on this.
  6. Go to your Google Webmaster Tools account for your old domain. If you never did this before, you need to now. Fill out a “Change of Address form”.
  7. Get a Google Webmaster Tools account for your new domain, and submit a sitemap of all your new URL’s.
  8. Contact all the web sites from step #2, and request that they update their link to your site. Even with the re-direct, you should do this, to preserve your “link juice” from those backlinks.
  9. Don’t wait too long to take your old site down if there is duplicate content. You can be penalized for this.
  10. Have patience…. several months of patience.

Ask yourself… is it still worth re-branding?


E-commerce Platforms: is yours search engine friendly?

Posted: January 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: E-commerce, SEO | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

If you are planning to launch a small e-commerce site, you may want to stop and consider whether search engines will be able to find the products you will be offering. Some platforms don’t offer the ability to edit certain criteria that are crucial to search engine friendliness.

Here’s a short checklist.

  1. Customizable Page Titles: Above all, the page title MUST be editable for each individual product. Remember, the page title is what you see on the search engine results pages and in the top of your browser window. As far as Google is concerned, it’s the most important element on the page.  Some e-commerce platforms use a template that only allows you to specify one page title that will be used for all products. This is disastrous for SEO!
  2. Customizable “Alt” Tags: You should be able to specify the “alt” tags for the product images. Some e-commerce platforms automatically use the product name as the image “alt” tag– which is better than no “alt” tag at all — but ideally you want to specify your own tag. Why? Well, more and more searchers are using the image search on Google to find what they’re looking for. For humans, a picture’s worth a thousand words. But not to Google, who can’t see the pictures unless you describe what’s there in the “alt” tag. So if you’re selling a pair of kid’s shoes by Stride Rite, maybe your product name is “Corey”. That doesn’t tell Google much. You’d want the “alt” tag to say “Stride Rite Kids Shoes – Corey – Pink/Silver Sneaker”. That way, an image from your site could come up for a search like “pink kids sneakers”.
  3. SEO-friendly URL’s: Many e-commerce platforms use database-generated URL’s such as www.site.com/product/19. Since the number 19 doesn’t tell us anything, it’s preferable to use descriptive words instead. Consider an e-commerce solution that generates static HTML pages rather than generating dynamic pages on the fly. Search engines prefer permanent links.
  4. Related products: It’s really useful to be able to link to related products within your catalog. Good for users AND good for search engines. Check to see if your e-commerce platform provides this option.

Please comment with your own suggestions to add to the checklist. Also, if you have a favorite e-commerce solution that fits the bill for SEO, please post it here.


Notes from a Handful of SEO Audits – Part 1: Mind your search engine results page.

Posted: October 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Google Page Rank, SEO, Web Design | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I’ve had a good response this month from Brooklyn bloggers, entrepreneurs and artists looking for ways to increase traffic on their web sites. I’m happy to report that all the sites I looked at are headed in the right direction and can easily increase their traffic by devoting about 5-10 hours to that end and changing a few habits. I’ll be devoting the next few posts to talking about some of the things I found when doing these audits.

Many small business web sites use the same duplicate page title on every page. My guess as to why this happens is that the coder uses a template, and doesn’t think to change the title when plugging copy into the bodies of the pages. The small business owner who is employing the designer/coder doesn’t, in most cases, know what a page title is. If they don’t see it within their design they don’t realize it exists. It’s seemingly a small oversight but the stakes are high. Google awards quite a bit of weight to page titles, but there’s another reason to be concerned about them. They are what users see in the search engine results page (SERP). Getting a page onto the SERP is only the first step. On the SERP, there are 9 other pages competing for one click– so the title really has to be right.

While we’re on the subject of SERP’s, let’s talk meta tags for a moment. Ever since we found out that Google doesn’t use the description meta tags, many web designers and coders out there have decided that meta tags are dead. That may be when it comes to PageRank but that’s not the whole story. If there’s no meta description tag, then Google grabs the first few words of the web page and uses those as the description on the SERP. In many cases, it’s the navigation that shows up– and it’s great to be using text links in the nav — but, which of the following two examples would you click on?

Example 1:
SERP example 1

Example 2:
SERP example 2

So, before spending money on PPC ad campaigns, small businesses should take a look at their sites and see if they can make a few small tweaks that could go a long way.

Notes from a Handful of SEO Audits – Part 2