Google: Curating vs Controlling – Do We Need a Better Search Engine?

Let me start out by stating a couple of details that are going to come to light in this post. First, I am about to show my age. I have been in and around the industry of Web Design and Search Engine Optimization for many years. I started dabbling with these things in the last century. You know, back in the world of CompuServe and dial-up modems. Yeah, that long ago!

The second detail you will pick up from this post is that I have made a living by helping people navigate the difficulties of getting their business or organization set up on the Internet. I don’t say that to brag or, depending on your point of view, villainize myself. It is just a fact. Take it however you wish.

Search Engines of Yore

Many years ago when the Internet was young, few people knew much about it, and many of those who did, felt it was a passing fad or at best a place to find information or talk to people from around the world. I still remember my fascination with talking to someone from another country in an online group. It was amazing how cool that was. Our technology has come a long way since then and these types of interactions have become mundane to most of us. Today, we hear news from around the world mere moments after things have happened.

In the old days (I can’t believe I just wrote that), search engines were just a simple way to find information or sites that might interest you. That still holds true today. However, as things grew in the online world, more and more businesses were adding websites as a way of marketing and communicating with potential customers. Search engines needed a way to let people find the information or sites they were looking for amidst a sea of possibilities, and display that information in a relevant manner. This generally involved their “web crawler” searching through web pages and look for keywords within the content on a page. If your search terms matched the content on the page, you would see that page in your search engine results page (SERP). Simple, right? Not for long.

The Need for Better Results

Everything was fine when the whole thing started out. The trouble came when more and more sites were being created. As more sites popped up, it became increasingly difficult to find the site or information for which you were searching. Simply put, there was just too much information and a serious need to sort it out in a manner that showed you the information you were looking for and not cluttered in with information that was not related to your needs. All we really want is to find the information or site(s) we want without all of the stuff we don’t. Right?

The Google Takeover

In the beginning there were several search engines vying for the right to be your search site of choice. If you have been around the Internet for a while, you may remember names like Infoseek, Lycos and AltaVista.  There were several more search engines and there are still many more today. All of these early search engines were in a power struggle to win the “top” spot.

Google began as a research project in the mid 1990s and grew to become the number one search engine in most of the world today. The only place that Google is not the leader is in China where Baidu is king. Google achieved such universal recognition that its name has become a verb, ie. “I Googled her to see when she was born.”

Google’s algorithm, or the code that determines a site’s placement in the SERP, has been growing and adapting for a couple of decades now. As website experts have tried to find ways to get their sites to rank the highest, Google has responded by changing their code to make sure that only the most legitimate information finds its way into your search results. There are lots of ways they have gone about lowering or removing sites that try to “cheat” the system and we will not go into that here, but Google works diligently to provide the best, most relevant, results possible. This is where things get a little shaky.

Somewhere along the line, I feel like Google may have gone a bit too far in an effort to keep site owners honest. While striving to find signals that a site was best for certain search results, Google has offered “suggestions” on how to set up a website to rank well.

Have We Gone Off The Rails?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO for short) is a set of techniques and elements that offer search engines an indication of what your site is about. Many companies have offered SEO services to their clients and Light House Studio is one of these companies.

We have been providing SEO services for almost two decades, so I have had lots of experience in this field and have followed the current trends closely. One of the most troublesome trends I have seen is in the suggested methods offered by Google. One of the popular phrases you will hear in this field is “Content is King.” In fact, I have said it myself.

The idea of good content is not a bad one. Everyone likes good content that is well written and presented. The trouble comes when this mindset slips into the pattern of churning out more content just to rank better. If you are approaching content as a means for better ranking, then you will often tend toward quantity over quality.

Content quantity is not the only area where Google is making these suggestions. They also have started heavily pushing for faster loading sites, sites that are mobile friendly and other such enhancements that should increase the user experience. All good ideas, but at what cost?

My Problem

My problem (and I understand that this is MY problem) with where we are right now is that I have an ever increasing feeling that Google has started dictating what our sites should look like and what they should contain. I am all for sites that are well designed and have great content, but I don’t feel that it is Google’s place to tell me what I should have on my site. I am afraid we might be starting to cross the line between curating content and controlling content. This makes me nervous.

I truly understand Google’s efforts to make sites better for users. A happy user is better for a company than a frustrated user who has to wait for pages to load or who cannot view a site because it does not display well on a mobile device. We all want sites that load quickly, display well and have great content, but where do we draw the line?

What Do You Think?

As someone who follows the search industry closely, I have a different perspective on these matters than most. So, what are your thoughts, dear reader? Do you feel the search community is overstepping their bounds or do you think this is a small price to pay for better websites? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Is Big Brother Listening | Digital Assistants – Pros, Cons and Privacy

A Digital Assistant for Everyone

An interesting trend in the marketing world has come from the influx of personal digital assistants such as Siri by Apple, the Amazon Echo, the Google Assistant (mobile phone) and Google Home (in home device). These devices give us the opportunity to search for information, play games, read books and control smart devices in our homes with our voices. Simply ask a question or tell the device what you want it to do and it will do it. Easy!

For an idea of how prevalent these devices are becoming, Amazon reports having sold millions of the Echo Dot this holiday season. They further state that the Dot was “the best-selling product from any manufacturer in any category across all of Amazon.” That is a remarkable statement given the number of sales that Amazon makes each season.

The Upside of Digital Assistants

These devices are truly remarkable in their capabilities. With a little “training” anyone can use one of these to find information and make their lives easier, to boot. My mother, who has low vision, uses her Echo Dot to find out the news, weather and other information, but it doesn’t stop there. She can also ask the device to turn off some of her lights and set the thermostat with the later being a difficult task for someone who has poor vision. This device has the potential to give her some more independence as she gets older.

As the list of “skills” for the devices grows, there is no telling what they will be able to do in the not so distant future.

The Downside of Digital Assistants

The biggest drawbacks (to me) of these devices stem from the same things that make them great.

First, the device is always listening. While this seems like a no-brainer, since if the device is not listening, it cannot hear you ask questions or give it commands, I worry that it is listening a little too closely. There have been several reports of Google, Apple and Amazon offering the users of these devices online advertisements based upon private discussions in their home. There have also been reports of the Facebook app doing this, as well. True or not, it is a bit scary.

I am okay with them offering me an ad for Crest toothpaste, if I have done a search for toothpaste. This just helps me find the most relevant information. However, when I see this same ad for Crest and I have only talked about how much I like Colgate to my best friend, while seated in my own living room, then I get a bit nervous.

Second, the devices and corresponding apps track and store all of your requests and queries. So, another feature that has a check in both the Plus and Minus columns, is the tracking feature. For instance, the Echo Dot uses the Alexa app. This app will show me pretty much all of my mother’s queries, etc. This is good in case she forgets something and wants to see it again. But this smacks a little bit of the Owellian Dystopia presented in the book 1984. Do we really want Big Brother watching us that closely?

Where Do You Stand?

While it is obvious there are many great features to the digital assistant devices, I have some serious reservations with their privacy and security protocols. What is your opinion? Do you think the lack of privacy is worth the convenience gained or do you feel there needs to be some more discussion on the privacy standards used by these companies?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

 

2018 Brings Lots of Changes at Light House Studio

The new year has begun and the old year has passed on by. 2017 was a great year here at Light House Studio, but we expect 2018 to be even better yet.

As always, our number one goal is to help our clients succeed in their Digital Marketing efforts. In the past year, we have found several areas of deficiency in the local digital marketing arena and we are stepping up our game to fill the gap.

New or Increased Service Offerings

Here are some services we will be adding or increasing in 2018. We feel these changes will go a long way toward filling the gap for our clients.

Expanded Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services.

Search Engine Optimization is the methods and techniques used to help a website or piece of content get listed in a search engine, such as Google or Bing. SEO has always been a fixture in the services we provide, but we will be adding more services in this area over the coming year. This will ensure that we provide a well-rounded SEO process.

Expanded pay-per-click services.

In many fields, organic SEO is not enough, today. In the past, we have helped our clients manage their paid advertising or pay-per-click (PPC) ads, but this year we are expanding into offering complete servicing of your PPC campaigns from set-up to management to reporting. Having all of this under one roof will expedite the process and offer much more control to the client.

Content Creation and Content Marketing

We all know the value of good content and writing. While many of our clients are able to provide us with content for their sites on a regular basis, many struggle with finding the time to generate much content, at all. This is where we will step up our offerings to help.

You will now have access to our well-chosen group of professional copywriters, photographers, designers and videographers. These teams will allow us to provide the quality content your site will need to compete in the online world of 2018.

Re-marketing /Location marketing / Geo-Marketing

These marketing efforts all revolve around the idea of a very targeted marketing strategy. Whether it is through re-marketing to a potential customer who has visited your site in the past, using automated follow-up email to market to your current customer base or just get your name in front of potential customers at a specific time or place, these are the pinpoint marketing tools to get the job done.

More Still to Come

These are just some of the areas in which we will be working to increase our offerings to our clients in the coming months. We are always keeping our eyes open and our ears to the ground looking for the best trends in digital marketing for our clients.

Please contact us for more information or call us at (865) 898-2069. We are here to help!

Website Styles, Trends and the Importance of Updates

The top trends in website design are always changing. As in the fashion world, what is popular in web design today will be considered passé tomorrow. Likewise, what is passé today may cycle back through and become the latest craze tomorrow.

The thing that comes to mind for me is the navigation bar or in plain English, the section of the web page that lists the links to the other pages in the site. In the early days of the Internet, most websites had a column, of site navigation, that ran down the left-hand side of the page. Everyone knew to look there, so it worked.

As things changed over the years and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) issues cropped up with that type of layout, most sites moved to a navigation bar that runs across the top of the page, somewhere. Today, many of those SEO issues have been resolved and sites are starting to use the left column navigation again, in an effort to stand out from the crowd. Like I said… cycles.

While it is not necessary or even reasonable for most people to change their website design on a frequent basis, the age of your site is something to think about. Let me ask you to take a minute and try to think how long it has been since your website design was last updated. If you can’t remember or you have to look it up, there is a good chance it is time to consider refreshing your design. This does not include content changes on the site like adding new posts or updating the site’s text and images. What I am talking about here is the overall style, appearance and layout of your site.

6 reasons to consider updating your site’s design.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does offer some of the most common reasons that you might want to update your site’s design.

1) Outdated Style

While this may not be the most important of the group, it is often the most overlooked. With site design being very trendy, you can sometimes be holding onto a design that looks very dated and this can reflect on the way people view your company. I see this a lot, with more established companies who built a web presence many years ago because someone told them everyone should have a site for business.

The problem comes when they think of it as a “set it and forget it” asset.

Ten years ago, people viewed websites in a different way. Today’s users see the website as an extension of your company and your sales force. If it looks old fashioned, they think of the company as old fashioned. Statistics say that the average lifespan of a website, these days, is 3-5 years. That is going to fluctuate depending on the site, how well it has been maintained and the company or product involved.

Whether your site is new or old, you should regularly review its design to see if it still reflects well on your company, organization, or brand.

2) Out of Date Best Design Practices

There have been so many changes in the best practices for website design in the last several years, that it is hard to count them. Many of these changes not only tend make your site look dated, but some of them are security risks and many of them will affect your site’s ranking in the search engines. Here are just a few of the more common or serious issues we see.

Not Mobile Friendly

These days, a website that is not mobile-friendly (displays well on a mobile phone or tablet) is a serious problem. If your site is not mobile friendly, it is definitely time to update your design.  With so many mobile devices out there and a large percentage of site visitors using them to access your site, it just makes sense to have a site that works well on a mobile phone or tablet.

However, it goes beyond that. Google has made a change to its algorithm that will cause your site to rank lower in search engine results pages (SERP), if it is not mobile friendly. This one is a big reason to update your design. A mobile friendly site will make your visitors and Google happier.

Slow to Load

In the early day of the Internet, everyone connected through a dial-up modem. If you are too young to remember that awful screeching sound made during the connection process, let me just say, it was not pretty. Dial-up connections were slow! What takes me a fraction of a second to download now, took several MINUTES back then.

Then came along high-speed connections and the World was grand. Or was it?

When everything was slow, designers had to make sure their content was as compact as possible, so that it would load easily. With faster connections, many designers got sloppy and did not worry about the size of their files.

Fast forward to today and if your page does not load quickly, people will just give up and leave. Google even states that a site that takes longer than 2 seconds to load, will limit the number of URLs (pages) they will crawl for adding to their index. Slow load = lower ranking.

Still Using Flash

We don’t see this very much anymore, but it was very popular not that long ago. If your site is still using Flash to display its content, you are way behind the time and need to really consider making a change, soon. By the nature of the way it works, Flash has never done well in search engines and the Flash player is being phased out and can be a security risk. Again, if you are using Flash, update now.

3) Better User Experience (UX)

The user experience is just what it sounds like. The way users interact with your site will ultimately make a difference in whether they stay on the site and look around or get frustrated and leave. How quickly the site loads, the way the navigation is set up and ease of finding the right information are some of the main things to consider in the user experience of your website. If your site is slow, clunky and you can’t find information fast, people will move on.

4) Better Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

While I have listed SEO as #4, that does not mean it is less important. In fact, some would argue it is the most important, me included. I did not list it as #1 because, as you probably have already guessed by reading the rest of the article, many of the other points made relate to your sites overall optimization. While there are many other reasons for a poor ranking on the search engine results page (SERP) or SEO score, mobile-friendliness, site load speed, and user experience all play a role in how well your site ranks. Google is constantly updating their search algorithm. Just because it worked last year, last month or even last week, does not mean it will work today.

SEO is huge for your website. Without it, your site may never be found by those users who may be looking for exactly what you have to offer. Better SEO=more traffic on your site.

 5) The Purpose of the Site Has Changed

Sometimes the purpose of your website will change or evolve as your company grows. It may be that your site was built as a simple informational tool to let potential customers know who you are and what you do. Over time, you may want the site to become more of a sales tool or even a store front selling your products online. As your company changes, frequently so does your site’s purpose.

6) Does Not Work Well with Your Other Marketing Efforts

This one is obvious. If your site is not an integrated part of ALL of your marketing efforts, then you really need to take some time to figure out how to best utilize your website for your marketing purposes. In most cases, your website should be the central hub of your online marketing efforts.

So, What’s Next?

If you have read this far, congratulations! You should now have a better understanding of the value and importance of keeping your website design up to date. However, if you are like most people, you don’t know where to start.

We can help you with that next step.

Contact us and let us have a look at your site and give you a free evaluation of the site’s design, content, and SEO. There is no obligation and we will not try to sell you something you don’t need. You will get a simple, honest evaluation and recommendations for ways to improve your site, if needed.

Oh, and by the way, we know that much of the technical jargon involved does not make sense to most people. We will translate it for you, in plain English. While you still may not understand it all, you should walk away with a much better understanding of how your site works and what you can do to keep it working for you.

Three Marketing and Social Media Trends I Wish Would Go Away (but probably won’t)

We live in an interesting time in our society. We have more ways of communication than ever before. We can share every moment of our lives with complete strangers at a whim. It is the modern day, digital version of trapping visitors into watching your home movies. Many of our younger readers probably don’t know what I am talking about, but let’s move on anyway.

As a disclaimer, I make a good portion of my living working with businesses to improve their online presence. The three topics I am about to discuss are often seen as great methods or devices for businesses to communicate ideas to their prospective customers. Plus, many of my peers in the industry will no doubt balk at the opinions I am about to put forth. However, they are just that… opinions. You can take it or leave it, but if we can’t discuss these matters, then they will continue to progress whether they are valid or not. So here we go…

Clickbait

Clickbait is basically just using a provocative title or photo in an article in order to get people to click through to the article. The article often has little or nothing to do with the title. The goal of clickbait is simply to get you to click through and hopefully subscribe to a list or buy something.

Wikipedia defines clickbait as “… a pejorative term describing web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines or eye-catching thumbnail pictures to attract click-throughs and to encourage forwarding of the material over online social networks. Clickbait headlines typically aim to exploit the “curiosity gap”, providing just enough information to make the reader curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content.”

Now, most of us will agree that this is not the best method of attracting customers. It is the modern day version of “Bait and Switch” where a customer is lured in by a product with a low price and then is pressured into buying a much higher priced product instead. Unfortunately, it works a lot of the time.

This technique is used a lot and it must work for those businesses, because you see it more and more often every day. Just because it works, does not make it acceptable. This is the same thing that can be said of spam email message and I doubt you will find many people who will agree that spam is a trustworthy form of sales.

Infographics

Okay, this one is a bit tougher to talk about, since there are a great many studies that point to the effectiveness of using infographics. What is an infographic? I’m glad you asked.

An infographic or information graphic is just what it sounds like. It is a graphical or visual image that contains data on a topic in a format that is supposedly easy to understand. They are kind of like a flow chart on steroids. If you want to learn more, there are tons of examples on Google.

Infographics are said to appeal to our short attention spans versus reading a lot of information. If that is true of you, then you probably did not get this far in this article, so take a break and go browse through your social media feeds.

In theory, I like infographics. We all want to absorb as much information as we can in a short amount of time. However, the practice of using Infographics is where I run into a problem.

As we become more dependent on our mobile devices as a method for accessing information, it becomes difficult to find a way to maximize the use of an infographic. There are just too many difficulties in making a graphic that is easily viewable on a small screen. Sure you can zoom in on the image, but you end up moving the image around to see it all and it suddenly loses is cohesiveness. The information becomes less fluid and harder to understand.

There is also the “big thumb” syndrome that comes into play. If you are like me, then you will invariably end up tapping at the wrong spot or time and find yourself on a completely different web site. Then you have to hit the back button and wait for the page to load all over again.

This is the same issue I have with our third topic.

Slide Shows

Slide shows are a popular way to display information on websites, these days. You will see the headline with something like “The 10 Best Programs for Keeping You Organized”. The article will contain a slide show or a series of photos with a brief discussion of each product or topic. In order to get from the first slide’s information, you need to click on the arrow that points to the right or use the next button.

Again, this is great in theory and I like these types of articles when I am reading them on my desktop computer monitor. When I have to view one on my smartphone, however, it becomes a study in futility. It is almost impossible to navigate from one screen to the next without skipping a screen or exiting the article altogether.

When I find one of these articles while reading on my phone, I always tell myself that I will come back and view it later on a desktop, but that rarely ever happens. The answer would be for the sites who use these slide shows to offer an alternative form of the content to the viewer, but this is rarely ever the case. If we forget about mobile users, we do so at our own peril!

Conclusion

I know that it is not likely that these three trends are going to change in the near future, but I hope that maybe we can find an alternate method for sharing information that is a little more functional and helpful. I may be alone in these opinions, but that is a chance I am willing to take.

In the meantime, let me know if you want to come over and watch home movies of our trip to the beach. I can get the projector out and set up the movie screen anytime.