Targeting local areas

It’s always a challenge. A small company wants to be found for search terms that include geographical areas in which they do not have a physical presence. For example, a fire alarm company whose offices are in Dorset want to come up for ‘fire alarms hampshire’, and it’s difficult.

The local search results based on Google maps will only list organisations based on physical address, so what do you do. The answer depends on how much you want to invest, both in time and money, and it will certainly take plenty of time.

Rand Fishkin did what I think is a very good White Board Friday on the topic a week or so ago.

Targeting the local market, beyond the doorstep, has always been difficult. I perhaps naively think it’s a particular problem here in the UK because we are so small. I imagine in the States the problem of being just over the border in Dorset but your target market being half a mile down the road in Hampshire just doesn’t happen, but perhaps as I say I just don’t know the US very well.


BrightonSEO 2014 – takeaways

BrigtonSEO is a very good conference. It has good speakers, the venue is good and there is plenty of accommodation in Brighton. My advice though is to think of coming by train, parking can be a nightmare.

At the conference last week (Sept 2014) there were three sessions with three concurrent tracks. Each session comprised three 20 minutes talks so there was quite a range of topics covered. As always, there are often two talks on at the same time that I wanted to go to but that is just life. Most talks are available to participants fairly soon after the conference so I am hoping I can catch up a couple that I was really sorry I missed – Ian Miller’s talk on the Predicting the future of Google created quite a buzz!

 So these are my Brighton takeaways

In no particular order, some are restatements of things we just need to keep in mind, some more innovative.

  • Persistence – keep telling clients the same thing if it isn’t happening
  • Video – if you haven’t got video on your site yet, do so now (good example for persistence)
  • Rework old content – this means updating popular content or revisiting ideas for content that have worked in the past – use analytics to make sure you know what your audience likes and gives them more
  • Cannibalisation – this is a real problem – if you have multiple pages on the same topic make sure they support each other not cannibalise each other. This generally means identifying one page as the main page for that entity and then link all the other pages to it supporting it
  • Semantic flux – this can occur when Google realises that two sites are related, they might just be owned by the same company. Increasingly Google takes note of this and you may find that pages on completely different domains are cannibalising each other
  • This is the golden age of technical and on page optimisation
  • Local search is all set to change in the UK very soon, expect Carousel to come over from the States and much much more
  • Google is increasingly able to take unstructured content and restructure it – this is not to say it wouldn’t be silly to ignore rich snippets
  • The Knowledge Vault is going to be big – it’s like the Knowledge Graph but on super steroids. Google’s aim is to catalogue all knowledge, no mean feat.  Google’s days as ‘just’ a search engine may be numbered.
  • Mobile is the internet of the future – look at how mobile results behave and look like now and this is what all results will look like in the future
  • Responsive design is the way to go – Google wants a result to render well whatever the device the user views it on
  • Forget keywords, think entities – the SERPS for say ‘vegetable dish’ and ‘vegetable recipe’ are converging
  • Entity rank is coming!
  • Bring all aspects of online and offline marketing together – PR should support SEO which should support email marketing which should print etc etc
  • Context is the new king (but without content there is no context)
  • Content needs to be longer in general
  • Hummingbird is when the lexicon got some grammar

But my reassuring takeaway was from the speaker who said he woke up a in cold sweat every mornings realising that he knew even less of what there was to know about SEO than he had one when he went to bed – that is how fast SEO is expanding. And I thought it was only me.



Where will Google translate and statistics lead us?

I have been critical of the mighty Google in earlier posts – The dangers of personalisation in search - but I’d like to talk about another side of the giant, one that in my view is much more likely to bring benefits to mankind that the insidiousness, in my view at least, of search personalisation.

Hans Rosling presented a fascinating programme on BBC four (available on the BBC iplayer for those not fortunate enough to live in the UK) about the Joy of Statistics. The way Hans Rosling presented statistical information about world health made me realise that I need to up my game in reporting Google Analytics data to clients, but I digress.

Hans explained that Google translate is a statistical product. I hadn’t given how Google translates an item much thought but it is revolutionary. Earlier attempts at automated translation tools had relied on compiling rules and structures in much the same way as a teacher might teach a person a foreign language. But this approach is set with problems. For every rule and structure there are exceptions, for which rules need to be constructed. So Google with its vast experience in managing huge data resources turned the problem on its head and looked at the problem as a problem in statistical correlation.

It all sounded very reminiscent of latent semantic indexing (LSI) which is at the heart of how Google ‘reads’ a page of content. I don’t feel I need to understand LSI in order to use Google or even optimise a site, in much the same way as I don’t need to understand the internal combustion engine to drive a car. But it does help to have some idea of how Google ‘thinks’ at least in outline, in order to understand what it is looking for and where.

There is no doubt that Google is an awesome thing, and the way I have always tried to get a feel for how Google reads a page is to look at a page of Arabic, about which I know absolutely nothing, and try and imagine working out using statistical correlations with the same material in English, which I do understand. Now I know that is not exactly – or even approximately – the way Google works but I find it is a useful metaphor.

It sounds remarkably like the task that the code breakers of Bletchley Park faced during WW2 and which accelerated the development of computing by Tommy Flowers and Alan Turing and so many others. Or the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone.

But back to Google translate, by adopting a statistical method of machine translation, Google has the potential to translate any language to any other language. At the moment, Google translate is used to translate copy found on the internet. But Google is looking at speech recognition, again using statistical methods and when this becomes reliable, then combined with Google translate, we have the possibility of being able to talk to anybody in the world irrespective of whether or not there is a common language.

Now being able to talk to anyone, anywhere is an awesome thought. I think it should lead towards greater understanding, world peace and harmony but I admit it is such a powerful tool that I don’t think I – or even Google – can envisage where it might lead and with what consequences.


The dangers of search personalisation

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Search is getting more personal. Google in particular is striving to make the search experience as customised to each individual as possible. If Google knows I live in the south of England then it assumes I am more interested in results from websites with a connection to this part of the world than to the north of Scotland. If I am looking for somewhere to eat tonight, then yes, it’s very helpful. If I am looking for a major capital project for my business, then no I want best fit for my needs.

As someone working in SEO, I have of course been familiar with the increasig personalisation of search for sometime. Good or bad for the searcher, it certainly causes issues when talking to clients and trying to explain that different people looking on different machines may see different results.

But it was not until I read a book recently by Eli Pariser called ‘The Filter Bubble’ that I really appreciated the full impact of personalisation. The internet has been heralded as opening up information in way no other medium has managed to achieve and for that we must all be grateful. Personalisation though is having the effect of funnelling what we see by delivering what the search engines knows, or thinks it knows, we are interested in. I thoroughly recommend reading Eli’s book for an in depth analysis, in my view he in danger of becoming a little too concerned and even borders on paranoia as the book progresses but he makes some very interesting points that we need to think about.

We all know that everything can be, and therefore is being, measured on the internet. It is also reasonable to accept that all this information is, or certainly could be, available to anyone willing to pay for it. So it not unreasonable to assume that anyone who wants information badly enough has access to it – and this is perfectly possible.

So here are a few scenarios that Eli highlights in his book and which made a particular impact on me.

Personalisation and social media

Scenario 1 surrounds social media. Let’s say I come from a fairly poor neighbourhood and have lots of friends with dubious credit histories. I on the other hand, have ‘made good’ without leaving my roots behind completely and have an excellent credit history. Is it unlikely that financial institutions are going to ignore the company keep and not take it into account when assessing me for a loan?

Personalisation and social mobility

Scenario 2 is about how difficult it might be for someone to make good from humble beginnings. Let’s say from my less than privileged background I go to a modest University though I am very bright. Recruiters looking to fill the most prestigious jobs are most likely to target Russell group candidates or Ivy League ones in the US. This has always been the case but it is so much easier now to target them on social media. If I do not see an advert for that great job, there is no way I am going to get it. My application never gets submitted.

Personalisation and news censorship

Scenario 3 has perhaps the most serious implications for society as a whole. Increasingly people get their news from the internet. If I go an buy a paper, then I may dive straight for the back pages to read the sports news but I am probably at least aware of the front page headlines about phone hacking or the banking crisis. The internet on the other hand feeds me news based on what I interact with. So if I never show any interest in the banking crisis, gradually less and less news about it is put in front on me and gradually I become totally unaware of its existence.

Perhaps the biggest danger with personalisation is that it is insidious. As an SEO I am aware of it and can, if I choose take some steps to mitigate its effects. But most people are totally unaware that in effect their information is being censored. And that is dangerous. In fact, if I could argue that personalisation is the start of the end of the information age and threatens our very democracy. But that would be getting paranoid – wouldn’t it?  Perhaps it does just enhance the search results.

Update-24 Aug

Eli Pariser uploaded a video about his filter bubble idea a while back – explains the concept very well.


Finding contacts

A wonderful resource for finding contacts – Listorious.  It is a Twitter search engine enabling you to find people by topic, region or profession.  Really useful!


Optimising videos for search

Video is an increasingly important medium and being found in the video search can be an extremely way of driving traffic to your site.  This applies to almost every market and sector.

SEO musings in the park


Creating a custom search engine

Creating a custom search engine provides a invaluable information management tool Read the rest of this entry »

Google and the taxman

The world of anyone working in SEO is dominated by Google, perhaps to an unhealthy degree it is, what we eat and breath.  Google has come in for a lot of stick in recent years especially in relation to privacy issues and is also increasingly Master of the Online Universe which is worrying.  I am thinking of the way in which it dominates the online
space, even to the point of requiring direction from US Justice Department to limit its control of the online travel space following its acquitision of ITA.

But we all know Google’s motto, ‘Don’t be Evil’ and to some extent it has managed to retain for itself some of the internet’s original ethos of generosity and openness, the
brand of Larry Page and Sergey Brin developing this massive wonderful technology to open information up to the whole world.

Well that’s one idea.  A very different view of what Google has become is outlined in the Sunday Times article (May 29th) on Google’s brilliance at tax avoidance.  The amount
of US, UK, and Irish tax that Google has managed not to pay is eye watering.  But then before we are too critical and moralistic about it, who of us pays more tax than we
legally have to and given the opportunity to rearrange out affairs to reduce our tax liability, which of us would say ‘but it is my civic duty to pay tax’?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a company capable of developing such an awesome tool as the Google search engine is more than capable of developing a ‘tax efficient’
financial and corporate structure.  Is this the  internet losing its innocence and growing up into a corporate adult?


Tracking cookies

april seo tipsCookies are very useful in tracking web stats, in fact they are essential for tools such as Google Analytics.  One specific use is in segmenting internal traffic, especially for traffic that is mobile, for example in the situation where a company’s sales force uses the company website as part of their sales presentations.

Being able to exclude this usage from the stats makes an assessment of the site’s success in engaging with its target market – both in terms of attracting new visitors and in engaging with them.  It is also valuable to look at how the sales force uses the site so that the webmaster can better understand how to provide the most useful website for them.

An easy to see which cookies have been dropped onto your browser is to type


into the address bar.  This will show all the cookies that have come from the site you are currently on.



As part of the online SEO course, students are set an keyword research assignment.  This is designed to provide hands on experience of carrying out a keyword research project and, in line with the concept of the online course, also enable students to work on the optimisation of their own site as they work through the course.

It is recommended that the assignment is carried out using Wordtracker but if students prefer, the free Google Adwords tool can be used.

Wordtracker offer a seven day free trial which is ample time in which to complete the assignment.  To sign up for the trail, please use the following link

Wordtracker will require your credit/debit card details but you may cancel the subscription at the end of the seven days with no questions asked.