SEO Costa Rica

Deceptive Marketing: A Necessary Evil for Search Marketers?

By Jill Whalen

A few years ago, I read a good article by Canadian SEO Melanie Nathan called “The Reciprocity Link Building Method” in which she outlined a technique she sometimes used to build up high-quality links for her clients’ websites. The gist, as I understood it, was to first find a website that would be good for your client’s site to link to. Then you’d click around to see if any of their current links were broken (went to dead pages or sites). If you found some, you’d use this information as an opening to start a dialogue with the site owner or webmaster, and eventually mention your client’s site as a substitute for one of the broken links. I thought it was a very clever idea, a great way to make contacts in your client’s industry, and a win-win for everybody involved.

We Convert Your Website Visitors to Customers

More recently I saw another article on this topic by Nick LeRoy, a search marketer in the Minneapolis area. Nick talked about the same basic technique Melanie had mentioned, and added a real-life example email he had used. In his example email, he mentioned to the webmaster that he had a favorite site from which he liked to purchase stuff for his son on birthdays and holidays. Nick again mentioned “his son” in a follow-up email, saying that he liked the products at this particular website because they made his son think.

All sounds good so far, right? Except that Nick doesn’t have a son!

I made the following comment on the post:

“Nick, I didn’t know you had a son (as per the emails requesting a link). If indeed you don’t, are you suggesting that people create a trust relationship with these webmasters by lying to them?”

Lots of comments ensued, which I encourage you to read over at Nick’s site. For me, what he did was certainly not ghastly, but the situation does bring up a ton of questions.

Was it necessary to lie? Isn’t that sort of thing exactly what gives marketers in general (not just search marketers) a bad reputation? Couldn’t he have done things exactly as he did without the lie?

I contend that he could have.

Nick claims that telling the webmaster that you’re looking for links on behalf of a client has less of a success rate for securing the link. It would certainly be interesting to test that theory, and it may very well be true. But even if you get fewer links out of it, that doesn’t justify lying in any aspect of business–or in life. (Are they really two different things?)

Lying in any form is deception.

Even if it’s just a tiny white lie. Even if it gets you more links. Even if it gets you more business. Even if it makes you look better in the eyes of your boss or client.

Which brings up another point: As the boss of someone using this technique, how would you feel about it? If your company culture is one of honesty, then any form of deception within your business should be a no-no. I can tell you that if I found out that an employee of mine did this, I would be very disappoínted in them and explain why we don’t use deceptive practices. I would also wonder why I had to explain such a concept to an adúlt.

And what about the client?

Did they know that their search marketing company was using deception in order to obtain links? Is their company culture such that it’s not a problem for them? Or did they not even know exactly how their links were being obtained? If you’re being deceptive on your clients’ behalf, one would hope that you get their permission and written sign-off so it doesn’t come back to haunt you at some point.

Personally, if I hired a company to perform a service for me and they did it in a way that involved any form of lying, I would wonder what else they were doing that was deceptive. Were they overcharging me? Did they even have the skills they claimed to have?

Not to mention the unsuspecting webmaster on the other side who gave out the link.

How would they feel later to find out they were duped? Would they have a bad taste in their mouth for not only the marketing company, but for the company they were linking to? What if they felt so duped that they decided to go public on social media with the information? How would the client like the technique if they ended up with a reputation management nightmare?

Surely I’m being dramatic here, because we’re only talking about a little white lie. But does the size or color of the lie make it any less deceptive?

And we are talking specifically about link building here. There’s a reason that I dislike it and don’t do it. As far as I’m concerned, link building in and of itself borders on being a deceptive practice because it’s usually done to secure a fake “vote” for a website. It’s an industry that shouldn’t exist, and wouldn’t exist if Google didn’t place so much weight on links. If it weren’t for that aspect of Google’s algorithm, we’d have website owners giving and getting links for the right reasons, with a lot less deception (and payment) going on behind the scenes.

We can debate ethics forever and néver come to a consensus because they are often seen as situational. What might be unethical in one situation might not seem so unethical in another situation. Certainly, life-or-death situations are not the same as marketing ones. If a lie is going to somehow save someone’s life, then by all means, please lie your head off!

But marketing isn’t a life-or-death situation.

Lying and deceiving to seek someone’s favor is generally agreed upon by most cultures as being wrong.

This is not a “black hat vs. white hat” issue.

It has nothing to do with hats. When it comes to search marketing, I don’t care what techniques you use or what methods you use to gain more targeted search engine visitors. I don’t believe that there are techniques that are more or less ethical than others. I don’t care what Google puts in their Webmaster Guidelines, because there’s no reason to need to know. If you fundamentally understand that all Google cares about is that your website isn’t being deceptive in some manner, then you can’t run afoul of them. They have to know that they can trust the information contained on your site and the information that you provide to Google. Nothing more, nothing less.

So many ethical conundrums come down to one simple question:

Is it deceptive or not?

I worry about search marketers who believe that deception is a necessary part of their job if they are going to get results. It’s not only incorrect, but a sad commentary on our industry and perhaps our world.

SEO Costa Rica

What Will Google+ Business Pages Look like? Top 10 Features We Want to See

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Ever since the soft launch of Google+ in late June 2011 rumours of the release of Google+ business pages have been rampant. Predicted release dates have come and gone, many impatient businesses have gone ahead and created Google+ profiles (designed for individuals) for their businesses; only to have them removed by Google shortly thereafter.
Right now the best way for businesses to get on Google Plus is to create a profile for someone with high standing in the company. Take for example Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore who has been added to 175,000+ circles (at the time of writing this). He’ll be sure to use that influence to grow Mashable’s Google+ Brand Page when it goes live.
So, what do we want to see in Google+ Business Pages? Read the rest to find out!
Google has a major opportunity on their hands, even if Google+ doesn’t reach Facebook-level numbers, Google+ Business Pages are still likely to be featured heavily in search results, which means they will definitely be seen! We’ve put our heads together to give you our top 10 features Google should include in the launch of Google Business Pages. 

1) One-to-One Communication Between Brand & Customer
We can already do this with Twitter through @replies and direct messages, but on Facebook there’s no easy way for a page owner to send a message to an individual. This would prove immensely valuable for customer service matters that are better handled in a private, rather than public forum.

2) A Backend Dashboard With Integrated User Analytics
Wouldn’t it be great to see something more advanced than Facebook Insights? We’d love to see integration with the existing Google Analytics Dashboard. Another key feature would be the ability to identify influencers based on their activity and social reach. Having a list of targeted influencers and being able to foster key relationships on a one-to-one level will give social media managers a new way to grow and service their communities.

3) Social Advertising Based on User Analytics
Just like Facebook allows you to advertise and attract fans, so too should Google+ allow page owners to target fans and add them to their brand circle(s). Google+ will have to be careful to not saturate their page with ads in the early phases, as it stands Google+ is free of any sponsored advertising. As people begin using Google+, AdWords integration will inevitably follow, opening yet another new frontier for advertisers.

4) Multiple Fan Circles
Imagine being able to segment your fans into separate groups and drive specific messages to them. You could have one circle for casual fans who’ve become part of your circles and another for hardcore fans who +1 and comment often. This could potentially spur community activity, if for example you wanted to be added to a brand’s elite circle and gain access to special offers, you may start engaging more. This is similar to some recent Klout promotions we’ve seen, but with a clout that’s focused around the “fan” and your brand – not just the fan and all of social media.

5) A Robust API
Whether Google+ Business Pages will coincide with the release of an API (Application Programming Interface) remains to be seen; it would certainly get the development community excited. Being able to add geo-location data and integrate other Google services like YouTube prove very promising for any brand that wants to make their Google+ Business Page stand out.

6) Google Places Integration
This is a big one. Google places is not without its issues, and it’s a natural fit that Google+ Business Pages will have some overlap with Google Places – if not replace them outright. If Google chooses the latter strategy, it will end up populating Google+ Business Pages automatically; there is already some evidence that suggests this. Whichever path Google decides to take hopefully it will give brands more control over what content is a part of their page, rather than just populating everything automatically and giving users little room to control content.

7) On-Site Reviews
This follows with Google Places integration, except it would allow for an area on Google+ Business Pages where reviews can be read and written. We’ve already seen a lot of review integration into Facebook with tabs and recommendations and it’s likely that Google+ will follow suit.

8) Customized Design
Definitely not the full fledged approach of MySpace, but somewhere between a Facebook landing page and a Twitter background. If the new YouTube enhanced channels are to give any indication, we’ll see customizable backgrounds with linkable areas. A drag and drop front-end would also be a great option for brands to customize their layout and do more interesting things with their design. If Google+ could open up design capabilities to those of us who don’t know how to code, the creativity of the business pages will quickly surpass Facebook, where people still need to know code in order to create a landing page.

9) Content Managed Landing Pages
Picking up from where number 8 left off, a landing page you can design and update with a content management system would mean that page owners would be able to make changes to their landing pages on the fly. If it were an inline CMS (with front-end editing) that would be even better!
10) Contest and Coupon Integration
Running contests directly on Facebook requires third-party applications, we’d love to see Google+ create easy ways for brands to run contests and give away coupons. These promotional methods foster engagement and create long lasting bonds between brands and their loyal followers.

In Conclusion
So there you have it, these are our top 10 predictions or our wish list, if you will. Bring on Google Plus business pages, we’re ready

SEO Costa Rica

3 Common Search Marketing Mistakes You MUST Avoid

Search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search marketing can be highly effective traffic drivers for your website. They can be a core aspect of your marketing mix. For some companies, Search can even be responsible for driving the vast majority of revenue.

So, how can Search potentially hurt a business, and actually do more harm than good?
If you haven’t built a rock-solid marketing foundation for your business first, Search could be driving prospective customers to a poor experience. In these scenarios, Search would be creating a crowd of people who dislike your brand, meaning you’ve lost them as prospects – both now and in the future.

To fix this and ensure your Search initiatives are teed up for success, avoid the following three common mistakes in launching Search campaigns:

Mistake #1: Launching Search with Weak Branding
What does your brand represent? What differentiates you from the competition? What’s your positioning in the market? Is your brand “likeable” among your target audience?
You think of Apple, and you think it’s a great brand. Now, think of your own brand. Is it a great brand – or just OK? Is it clear who you are and what you stand for? Are you likeable and relevant to your target audiences?

Building a strong brand – one that really sells – is important. With each incremental visitor that you touch with your brand, you must ensure a great experience or you risk losing customers (and possibly even your reputation). With solid branding, the business results from your Search efforts will improve dramatically.

Mistake #2: Launching Search in a Silo
Some companies dive head-first into Search, believing it to be a magic pill. However, Search is a capture mechanism, and typically only serves as one step in the overall marketing funnel. If you ignore the other steps in the funnel, you’re probably going to under-perform, no matter how exceptional you are at Search Marketing execution.

In other words, even if your Search efforts are driving traffic, you still need to be a good marketer, period. Consider:
How are you building awareness?
How are you generating word-of-mouth?
Is your messaging attracting the right audience, at the right time?
Have you explored everywhere you need to be, online and offline?
Have you integrated your marketing across channels, vehicles and customer touchpoints?
Have you nailed the close – have you given potential customers every possible reason to select your company’s products or services?

Are you doing enough cross-selling, upselling and post-sale marketing…

Mistake #3: Launching Search with a Weak Website
Is your website the ugliest thing in the universe? Is it hard to navigate, with a frustrating “maze” of information? Is “inconsistency” the only thing that is consistent about your site? If so, it’s time for a site overhaul.

When assessing your site, look at your website’s conversion rate. If you need a microscope to find that number, you’re not ready for Search. Why invest money in driving traffic to a site that’s underperforming? Instead, first focus on conversion optimization, ensuring that you’re matching your visitors’ needs. Once you know that your design, messaging and calls-to-action will lead to boatloads of conversions, it’s a great opportunity to invest your time, energy and money on Search.

Remember, Search Marketing can drive a great deal of traffic to your site and conversions for your business. However, you need to first build the right platform for your Search initiatives so that campaign results will effectively propel your business forward.

By Tom Shapiro

SEO Costa Rica

Google+ Reviewed

By Jacob S Strandlien (c) 2011

Social networking has grown steadily in scope and importance over the last decade, and over the past few years, Facebook’s position as the top dog of social networking services has been solid and unquestioned. Enter Google+. Google’s attempts to step into the realm of social networking have been plentiful and almost undeniable failures, but Google+ is undoubtedly their strongest showing yet, and has the best chance of success. It is growing steadily in popularity, but how well does it work and what sets it apart from its competitors?

Social Networking, Google Style

Google has a long, tumultuous, and mostly unknown and ignored history with social networking. The following is a rundown of their previous attempts.

Orkut: As far as I am aware, this is Google’s earliest and (until now) most successful attempt at a social networking platform. It didn’t ever gained much popularity in the United States, but it is huge in Brazil to this day, and it also has a following in India and other various countries.

Open Social: Launched in 2007, it’s not technically a social network in and of itself. Open Social is Google and MySpace’s attempt to create a common programming interface that can be applied across several social networks, allowing programmers to easily integrate these networks into websites and other applications. This has largely been drowned out by Facebook.

Friend Connect: Launched in 2008, Friend Connect was Google’s next attempt at a Facebook or MySpace style social network, but it took the approach of using various open standards (including Open Social) to create this network across different types of accounts and websites. I had not even heard of it until I started researching for this article.

Google Lively: This was Google’s attempt to create Second Life style 3D environments that could be installed onto any website, where users could log in with their personas and interact with each other. It only lasted for a few months before it was discontinued in 2008.

Google Wave: This was a communications format that was intended to combine features from e-mail, message boards, and social networking schemes to enable a conversation-style information exchange (or wave) that could include various type of media added by various networked contributors. Google has basically abandoned the project, but it still exists under the name Apache Wave.

Google Buzz: A social network that has been integrated into Google’s e-mail service, Gmail, since 2010. It allows people to share information with one another in a social networking format right inside the Gmail interface. Ironically, Google Buzz has barely generated any buzz at all.


Circles are the core concept of Google+, and the key feature that sets it apart from its competitors. Anybody you wish to communicate with goes into one or more of your “circles”, or groups of people you know. You can have a circle of friends, a circle of co-workers, a circle of family members, etc, and nobody but you can see what circles you have or who is in them. Then when you write a status update, you also choose which circles to share it with. This makes privacy a breeze, a fact that sets Google+ firmly apart from Facebook, where privacy settings are terribly complex to manage and seem to change every few months. Even better, when you’re setting up your personal information in Google+, there is a place in every field to specify with which circles that information is shared. For example, I have my phone number set up to only be visible by friends and family, but I have my profession set to be visible by all my circles. It’s a snap. Then when you go to look at status updates that others have posted (which is in an interface similar to Facebook in basic appearance), you can filter the information by circles with just one click. It works extremely well, and you can color me impressed.


Another unique feature in Google+ is the concept of a hangout. A hangout is basically a video chat room, where you can invite friends and talk freely amongst each other. Webcams are becoming very widespread, and are even built into laptops and netbooks. It sounds great, but it is not without its setup. To even get started with hangouts, you are asked to download and install the “Google Voice and Video plugin”, and then you have to find a fríend who is on Google+ (and is in one of your circles) who is willing to do the same thing. However, once you’re done with all that, the streaming video seems to work flawlessly so long as you have a good internet connection. Even through the limited resources of a netbook, I didn’t run into any hiccups. Once again, I’m impressed.

Missing Features

With all of its clean look and smooth operation, there are some features that are conspicuously missing from Google+. Most notably as of the writing of this article, Google+ lacks any way to set up an account for a business or organization (called “Pages” on Facebook). In fact, Google is actively taking down standard user accounts that are set up for organizations. They claim that they are working on some sort of platform for business accounts, but demand is high, so they risk alienating new users if they take too long. Another conspicuously absent feature is a way of setting up an event, or any sort of calendar entry for that matter.


Google+ is definitely a top-quality effort by Google to break into the social networking field, but only time will tell whether it can topple Facebook from its position as top dog in the pack. For my money, though, it has a good chance. It doesn’t have all the features yet, but with its clean interface, simple no-brainer privacy, and fun methods of interaction, I highly recommend checking it out.

SEO Costa Rica

SEO Keyword Tips

a chart to describe the search engine market
Image via Wikipedia

Whether you’re running a PPC (pay per click) campaign or doing SEO (search engine optimization), having a keyword list that describes your product(s) or service(s) is an essential element for getting your website discovered on search engines. These tips will work the same whether their for blog posts or other content on your website.
For the purposes of this article a keyword will be referred to as a single word or string of words that a user will type into a search engine.

You know your business inside and out, but how do you know what keywords everyday people are using to find you online? This blog will outline several online tools that will aid you in building your keyword list.

1) Google AdWords Keyword Tool
This tool is not just for AdWords, it’s also useful for organic search engine optimization as it gives you related keyword searches that real people are actually using. You’ll also get a snapshot of how competitive the keyword is (in AdWords, but it’s also relevant for organic optimization). The number of global monthly searches for the keyword and local monthly searches are also displayed.

2) Word Tracker
The free version of Word Tracker will provide you with a limited list of keywords and the volume of searches for each keyword. It’s not as extensive as the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, but it’s worth a try since it does come up with different suggestions for related keywords.

3) Keyword Eye
Keyword Eye allows you to create a list of related keywords and view them in different visualizations. You can view keywords in a cloud map (as shown below); red denotes highly competitive keywords, yellow indicates moderate competition and green means low competition. You can also view keyword search volume share represented in a pie chart. Lastly you can view them in a grid that will tell you the search volume, competition, competition score, match type, country and language.

4) Google Analytics
To use Google Analytics you’ll have to install the embed code on your site. To make sure your analytics code is installed correctly try using our GPablo analytics code scanner.
Google Analytics won’t suggest keywords for you, but it does let you uncover the different keywords by which people discover your site. You can then gear additional content around some of the popular searches people are doing to find you.

5) Google Insights for Search
Although still in Beta, Google Insights for Search lets you see what people are searching for. With this tool “you can compare search volumes patterns across specific regions, categories, time frames and properties.” You can also compare how your keywords do seasonally and geographically.

This seems like a really obvious solution to finding alternate keywords for your site. For those of us who can’t fire off 10 synonyms for every word they know, a thesaurus is a great way to uncover other words that people may be using to search for your products or services.

In Conclusion
So there you have it, my top 5 free online tools for helping you build your keyword lists. On a side note, Google used to have a tool called the Wonder Wheel that looked like a tree with each keyword spawning a new set of branches and keywords. It would have definitely been a part of this list, but unfortunately Google shut down the Wonder Wheel earlier this year.

As useful as keyword tools are, it’s important to do some good old fashioned brainstorming. Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and thinking like them will go a long way in helping you uncover valuable keywords. Use these free SEO keyword tools to aid in your own brainstorming and critical thinking.

SEO Costa Rica

On-Page Blog Optimization Techniques

A SPN Exclusive Article By David Jackson (c) 2011

On February 5th, 1956, a science fiction movie titled “Invasion of the Bódy Snatchers” was released in the US. The movie is about a small-town doctor who discovers that the population of his community is being systematically replaced by emotionless alien duplicates.

Fast forward to today, and life is imitating art, with a real life version of Invasion of the Bódy Snatchers being played out. But it’s not just happening in one small town. It’s happening in cities and towns all across America. Only it’s not bodies that are systematically being snatched, it’s our individual right to privacy.
“If you win this case, then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day, the public movement of every citizen of the United States.” Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

I just read a disturbing article on the BBC News website titled How Much Privacy Can Smartphone Owners Expect?

Among other things, the article discusses how The US Supreme Court could soon make a ruling allowing police to monitor the movements of US mobile phone users without a warrant – which legitimately begs the question, now that most of us carry sophisticated tracking devices in our pockets, how much privacy do we have a right to expect?

Because if authorities get their way, they won’t have to ask “Where’s Waldo?” They’ll know exactly where he is, because they’ll be monitoring his smartphone.

The Erosion Of Privacy In America

As American citizens, we have the constitutional right not to be subjected to unsanctioned invasion of privacy by individuals, government or corporations. And while those rights are supposed to be protected by the constitution, the truth of the matter is, the erosion of our privacy has been occurring for decades.

And it hasn’t been occurring in a vacuum either. The media has been reporting on invasion of privacy stories for as long as I can remember. In fact, I distinctly remember a huge media story from twenty years ago about a government agency that used thermal imaging devices to locate a marijuana growing operation in Oregon.

On January, 27, 1992, Oregon authorities arrested a man named Danny Lee Kyllo, who was tried and convicted of illegally growing marijuana. Authorities located the marijuana by placing thermal imaging devices outside of Kyllo’s home. However, in 2001 in Kyllo v. United States (533 U.S. 27), the conviction was overturned because it was decided that the use of thermal imaging devices that can reveal previously unknown information without a warrant does indeed constitute a violation of privacy. (Source: Wikipedia)

SEO Costa Rica

The Biggest Web Design Trends of 2011

By Stephen Loates (c) 2011

Since we are over seven months into the year I decided it was time to give my take on what may happen in web design in 2011. (At least I thought I should probably write it before the year was over.)

So, over the past several weeks I have read a number of my favourite web design magazines, web design blogs and articles and viewed a number of cutting edge websites, particularly outside of North America, so that I could share some thoughts about what appears to be some of the major trends in website design for 2011. There is nothing scientific contained here, just some observations.

1. Less Use of Flash

It is not the fact that Flash is not a great technology…(when used appropriately it is)…but in the past year or so it has been over used, misused, abused to the point that it has developed a bad reputation. Certainly, the ongoing shenanigans between Adobe (creator of Flash) and Apple (iPhone and iPad) are not helping the situation. Today, websites need to have a clean, uncluttered design, fast loading and above all must be Search Engine friendly. This is a problem for Flash and now with the coming of the new web coding languages of HTML5 and CSS3, together with the explosive growth of web surfing on mobile devices perhaps it is the beginning of the end of Flash in web design.

2. Simpler and Cleaner Design

Simple. Minimal. Uncluttered. There’s nothing quite as “attention grabbing” as an honest, straightforward message on a quiet backdrop. Quiet can be interpreted several different ways. Forget black and white or shades of gray, although these are still very popular in certain industries. Think of green, yellow, red or even blue as your primary color. However, limit your palette to two or three colors. Work within the shades of each color for variety and depth. It can be truly remarkable what a few colors can do for effective messaging.

3. Mobile Ready Design

Smartphones, tablets, netbooks, the list goes on and on. There’s a dizzying amount of mobile products available to the consumer in 2011. This means your web design must be responsive to multiple devices. Creating a mobile ready website is not simply removing the bells and whistles from your existing design. One of the most important advances is that you can design a whole site and allow your coding to conform to the user’s viewing medium. It may be tempting to just create a dedicated mobile site, but that may no longer satisfy your audience. Increasingly, mobile sites include the option to visit the original site. If you do not offer this option or if your original site is not optimized to mobile standards, you are simply not ready for 2011. Forecasters predict that smartphones will outsell personal computers this year, and by 2013 more time will be spent surfing the internet on a mobile device than on a personal computer.

4. Large Photographic Backgrounds

Large scale backdrops will surge in 2011. These images will be high resolution, and covering the entire site. Large photos are an instant way to grab your audience. Massive images were once taboo for web designers, but thanks to better image optimization, faster internet connections, and smarter loading methods, designers can gain a lot in some sites by pushing image sizes to the maximum. Trends also point to soft and slightly transparent imagery that does not overshadow your content, but harmonizes with it.

5. QR: Quick Response

You may have noticed those square barcodes (looks like lots of squiggly unrelated lines) popping up on business cards, magazines or elsewhere, so you may already know that they are a hot trend for 2011. These barcodes are called QR, short for Quick Response. And how exactly does QR translate into web design? Quite well, in fact. Simply take a photo of the unique barcode with your camera phone. Like magic, your phone will call up the website associated with that barcode. The beautiful thing about QR is the flexibility. Feature your QR on your website, in order for site visitors to have a shortcut to your mobile site. 2011 is all about mobility and it will be smart to take advantage of this new medium.

6. Thumbnail Design

Our good friends at Google have introduced the average internet user to thumbnail browsing. The days of clicking through to see the content of a website are now gone. Now, you just click on the magnifying glass and hover. And just like magic before your eyes is a glimpse of what waits on the other side of your click. This is another issue for Flash-based design that is definitely going to be a problem. The preview will not display those elements of your design. As the average internet surfer becomes more internet-savvy in 2011, expect to see more people navigating by these means.

These are by no means a complete listing of all the trends. In fact, we could probably write an entire posting on the trends in the use of different fonts alone.

Drop me a line and let me know what trends you have noticed and what you think of them.