Google Shows Off Its Three Pack

Google is dropping the somewhat controversial carousel display of local search results, which was used for hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues, in favor of a “three pack” of top ranked organic listings.

The Carousel hasn’t been very popular with SEO experts who had difficulty figuring out how the Carousel could change the way users searched for businesses. It was also unpopular with the businesses themselves, as the business owners couldn’t control which image would be used for the display. The Carousel never even launched in Europe.

The new three pack looks like this, appearing BELOW the AdWords results (the Carousel appeared above AdWords):

 

Google Three Pack Example

Example of Google’s New Search Results with the 3-Pack Listing replacing the Carousel.

The three featured destinations are ranked by Google, using algorithms. Hotels will have their pricing and review results listed in the three pack listing, along with a calendar feature allowing the searcher to check on availability. Night club and restaurant results are similar, with reviews and price points. The ”More” link takes the user to a page of local results, along with an interactive Google map.

The  great improvement the three pack delivers for hotels is that by clicking on one of the featured listings, the user will be taken to a business profile page, something very similar to the Google Knowledge Graph panel. The business panel appears at the top of the new page, along with alternative photos, reviews and a Google map. If the hotel offers online booking, the user is able to start the booking process directly from that page.

For now, the three pack results will only appear in PC queries, not mobile.

This new display result gives users an easy way to navigate the top listings in the category they are searching for, while still feeling integrated into Google search; the features can make the booking process nearly seamless.

This improvement should be much more popular than the Carousel, especially for those whose organic results place them in the top three!

Facebook Changes their Algorithm Again

You think Google changes their search algorithm all the time, well Facebook changes just as frequently. This week Facebook is rolling out an altered News feed algorithm once again. In previous updates, Facebook has tried to insure users see the posts that are most popular within their circle of friends even if it was few days ago and only if you had contact with that Facebook user recently. However, Facebook waFacebook Algorithm Updatesnts the news feed to show you the right content at the right time, not irrelevant content or something that happened a few days ago. Facebook is now taking all of this into consideration.

The current Facebook update will include ranking based on trending Facebook topics, along with the timing of each like and comment, to pair up with current post popularity. So if a friend posts about a trending topic, for instance, Emma Watson and her stance on Feminism, and the post goes viral because it is a fresh topic but then dies slowly over the next day or so, it will tend to get moved lower and lower on your news feed while new trends and those popular with your friends start showing higher on the scale. This goes back to when the term Time Decay’ was being referred to more often than not.

This week we’re also seeing a possible update to the ‘Boost Post’ feature with the addition of more audience and demographic options. This will make it much easier for those marketers who don’t promote posts that often, to include better targeting options for the boost. This update still lacks the control and sophistication of the Facebook Ads Manager, but for those not ready to cross over into full fledged Facebook Advertising, this should be a great advancement to the on page posting promotions.

Another of Google’s Dodo Birds

Another of Google’s Dodo Birds

Google Authorship Becomes Extinct

Google has done it again! They have marked the history books of online search by adding another Dodo Bird to their increasing list of extinct projects that did not succeed in the intended fashion; this time it is the Authorship program.

As of last Thursday (8-28-14) Google has stopped showing authorship in search results. We lost the authorship images back in June, but this recent Google + post by John Mueller indicated that there will be no more authorship display of any kind in organic search results going forward. This Google program ran for just over 3 years, and supported the use of structured data markup that helped to identify content authors using the rel=”author” tags and provided both a rich snippet enhancement, and supposed ranking benefits to those individuals and websites that properly used the markup.

This program’s rise & fall have come full circle; for fantastic details (beyond my own post) on the history and research behind the loss of Google Authorship, checkout the excellent Search Engine Land article co-written by Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen.

Why Has Authorship Been Removed from Google Search?

Unfortunately after a great deal of review, Google’s experts felt that they had not met the programs goals with the success that was expected, and found that it was time to lay the poor beast to rest citing two primary areas that fell short:

  • Low adoption rates and unsuccessful implementation by authors and webmasters – the numbers of participants correctly using authorship markup did not meet Google’s expectations, and it became seemingly obvious that user patterns were not going to improve. Without better participation for using authorship markup, Google felt that it was not successfully evaluating & connecting content and authorship across the internet as it had hoped to (particularly for the amount of resources they were utilizing).
  • Minimal value to searchers- especially with the ever-growing mobile search market. John Mueller indicated that Google was seeing little difference in “click-behavior” and did not feel that authorship display was offering users any significant value.

What Should You Know Now that Authorship is Gone?

According to John Mueller (who responded to a number of expert questions posted in his blog regarding this change) the following are things that you as a website owner or webmaster should keep in mind:

  • Google is no longer using authorship structured data in anyway, including behind the scenes or for other data analysis.
  • This change only affects authorship markup, not publisher markup.
  • Leaving any existing authorship markup on your site is not an issue in Google’s eyes (it shouldn’t cause problems), and could still offer users important information about you as an author if they want to learn more.
  • Google is NOT yet saying one way or the other whether there is value in linking your Google+ profile to pieces of work that you create. The inferred answer is that there still is value in the linking created by these connections, and that ultimately you will want to be connected to that which you create for other reasons (that Google may assess in new & different ways). So the markup may not be necessary to include within your site going forward as authorship markup itself has no benefit, but linking yourself to content, and authorship in general may still have value. Only time will truly tell…
  • It appears, by spot checking several Google Webmaster Tools accounts, that the authorship markup testing tool has already been removed, and that Webmaster tools is no longer reporting on authorship related markup errors.

There are plenty of people who debate Google’s real data points and reasoning for removing authorship from search display,  but the bottom line is, Google didn’t feel that this bird was flying high enough to justify the processing resources it used.  And so, like many other Google programs, services & interfaces, Google Authorship has gone extinct… like the Dodo Bird.

Blizzard University Workshops Coming Up Soon!

Blizzard-University-Countdown-Susan-

Join us at our Blizzard University workshop on online marketing during the first day of RezFest in Nashville, on Wednesday, Sept. 17th, or VRMA in San Diego on Sunday, October 26th! Learn hands-on, tactical and practical methods to improve your online bookings and overall reservations by using the most effective online marketing techniques.

 Three Options to Choose From:

Full Day: 9:00 to 5:00 pm

 Morning: 9:00 to 12:30 pm

Afternoon: 1:30 pm to 5 pm

Dan-Blizzard-University
Increase your bookings, and lower your costs, by using the most effective techniques to market your website.

Special VRMA $300 Membership Offer Extended To August 31

VRMA is THE industry organization providing outstanding education and resources for vacation rental management professionals, such as:

  • Sample marketing plans, government affairs whitepapers, and many other resources
  • VRMA Weekly electronic newsletter that delivers dozens of industry articles from multiple sources
  • In-depth articles and industry updates in The Review quarterly magazine
  • Registration discounts for VRMA events so you pay the best available rate
  • Community of industry professionals who share experience and best practices with each other
  • Vendor/suppliers with products specific to the industry and to serve your business needs

Your membership begins as soon as your membership application and dues are received, and provides membership in VRMA with full benefits until December 31, 2014. Go to vrma.com/managermember  to complete a membership application today. To receive the $300 offer, select Manager Mid-Year Special as the member type on the application and let them know that Blizzard referred you!

VRMA Vacation Rental MarketingVisit VRMA’s Frequently Asked Questions page for more information about this special promotion.

If you want to learn more, but aren’t ready to join, sign up for a FREE two-month subscription to the VRMA Weekly.

If you have any questions, call the VRMA office at 317-454-8315 or visit www.VRMA.com.

VRMA Blizzard Vacation Rental Marketing

 

When it Comes to Negative Reviews – Have a Plan

I’m going to go out on and limb and guess that most businesses have heard over and over again that you NEED to have a strategy when it comes to responding to reviews.  Most of the time, your reviews are great.  You hand pick some goodies to show case on your website and hope that those out there on Yelp, TripAdvisor and the like aren’t so bad.  And hey, don’t the positive typically stand out over the negative?

The way we function online has completely changed how consumers operate.  More and more, customers will visit those online review sites to see what your past guests have to say.  This is a great way to gain additional business or lose the reservation to your competition.  Online travel reviews give customers a place to lodge their complaint or praise and be heard in a big way.

Monitoring what is out there about your business is a very important part of garnering feedback and making improvements to keep yourself competitive in the game.  Negative reviews are something that you should not let slide and how you address them is important to your future success. By promptly replying, you can minimize the damage and hopefully sway future guests into booking their reservation with your business.

Here are a few good tips when it comes to monitoring and responding to those negative reviews:

  1. Write your own response and definitely don’t have someone outside the business reply.  Include your name, your business telephone number and TRY your best to use actual grammar and good spelling.
  2. Address the legitimate concerns of the reviewer.  Don’t make a deal out of something that you can’t truly fix like they didn’t appreciate the décor of the rental they stayed in.  You can pass that information along to an owner and if they are so inclined, they can make changes to their rental.
  3. Definitely explain what changes you have made or intend to change.  Or, make an offer to the guest that they can’t refuse.  You can make that an online response or private response.  Either way, letting the particular guest know those adjustments you are willing to make will get passed along or read by others.
  4. Remember to be patient, and let your feelings settle before you make any response publicly or privately.  Keep it professional!

Developing a strategy makes it easier whenever you have a negative comment or review to respond to.  By continuing to address your guest concerns and comments, you are acknowledging the human side of your business and encouraging more customers to book and past guests to return.

Reviews come in all shapes and sizes.  Read this story about a bizarre and sexist review on Yelp and how the business owner made the best of the situation.  Just make sure that you have a strategy and respond to reviews, both negative and positive.

International SEO – Google Offers a Helping Hand

Out of Beta and into the real world, international real world that is! Google has just announced adding a new section to Google Webmaster Tools, labeled “International Targeting”. If you operate a website that targets visitors from more than one country, and in more than one language then this may be of serious interest to you.

Webmaster Tools Dashboard

Dashboard in WMT showing the International Targeting Option

In an effort to respond to the public out-cry for help identifying issues with hreflang annotations (the markup that enables search engines to serve the correct language or regional variation of a page in order to provide more targeted results for searchers), Google offers webmasters a tool that makes note of two of the most common problems associated with language targeting and hreflang annotations:

Missing Return Links

The first issue Google helps identify is related to missing return links; if an annotation is not confirmed from the page it is pointing to, there will be an error. For example, if page A links to page B, then in-turn page B must link back to page A, otherwise the hreflang may not be properly interpreted by search engines. For each of these errors, Google identifies where and when detection took place as well as where the expected return link should be.

See the Example Provided by Google:

Example from Google Webmaster Tools of Missing Return Links

Identifying missing Return Tags

Incorrect Hreflang Values

The value of the hreflang attribute must either be a language code in ISO 639-1 format such as “es”, or a combination of language and country code such as “es-AR”, where the country code is in ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format. If the language or country codes are not in these formats then Google reports the issue and provides an example URL to assist with fixing the problem.

Unknown Language Code Report from WMT

Example of Unknown Language Codes in WMT Reporting

For more information on getting hreflang right checkout this recent article from David Scottimano detailing examples & insights for those who need and use international SEO for their website.