All posts in SEO

Google Shopping Goes to a Pay to Play Model

If anyone has been paying attention to tech news, this story has probably been one of the biggest to hit the virtual newsstands. Google has announced they will begin testing a pay to play model to replace their current “organic” search standards for shopping online. This is big news, and I’ll tell you why.

First let me how explain how it worked up until recently. Let’s say your planning a camping trip next month and when going through your gear you realize that your tent you used to use in college will no longer accommodate you and your new family. So you decide to take a look online and see what’s out there. So you hop on your laptop and Google “tent”. You’re probably going to get a result that looks a bit like this:

The top left and smaller right column are populated by paid Adwords (as in someone has paid Google to be placed there) ads. Both areas are clearly marked as ads in grey text above them. Within the tan box below the Adwords you would see a few products, these are paid products listing. Underneath the product listing ads you will have your organic results including an area defined as “Shopping results for…” in this case, “tent”. Up until May 31st these results could be anyone’s product listing provided your product is relevant and you’ve done your SEO homework, no money needed to be dished out to Google. Pretty cool right? Provided you have submitted your data feed you may even get a little picture of your product next to the info. Well I am afraid this is no longer the case.

Type in “Tent” now and you’re going to get results that look something like this (Google says it will be experimenting with a few different looks along the line):

Again you start your results with AdWords text ads at the top left and down the smaller right column. However now you’ll notice that, rather than having separate Product listing ads and Google Product Search, they are combined into the single Google Shopping box. Finally after all this you will see the organic Web Search listings. The difference is this: You must pay Google to appear in the Google shopping box, no more freebies.

So how much do you pay and how does it work? Well it’s not quite set in stone yet, there is no hard date but Google says that it should be official sometime in the fall. Google also says that it will work very close to the way Product Listing Ads works now where merchants don’t bid on keywords but instead bids on how much they are willing to pay if their listing appears and is clicked on or a sale is produced. Google is offering two incentives to get merchants going:

• All merchants that create Product Listings Ads by August 15 will receive 10% credit for their total PLA spend through the end of the year
• Existing Google Product Search merchants will get a $100 AdWords credit if they fill out a form before August 15

So what affect will this have on shopping online? It hard to say but there are many feelings floating around out there both positive and negative. Some think that this will provide a serious advantage for bigger companies that are able to bid a lot higher than the little guys. Some think Google can be trusted to keep it fair and that it is not really that different then what is going on now. Some think that this is pushing Google into a more AOL-like model where you’re getting more and more trapped in the Google universe. Personally I don’t see this being a great thing but I am willing let it play out and give Google a chance, I suppose I don’t have a choice!

Google provides more information and as always if you need any help with this topic or anything else web-wise drop us a line!

The Only Audit You’ll Ever Ask For

Websites should be attractive, consistent with your company’s branding, and designed to sell. Sometimes a few little tweaks to your look and function can make a big difference in how well you are serving your clients.

Everyone wants their website to look top notch. Who wouldn’t? We all want to be represented in the best possible light. But let’s be honest, there will always be someone out there that has a newer, more creative, fancier looking site. Keeping up with the Joneses is tough on the internet, and constantly doing full site redesigns is not only difficult but expensive and time consuming. Now I am not saying a total overhaul is never a good idea, certainly if you haven’t had any major design changes in 5 years it’s probably time to invest in one. Short of starting from scratch lies a different option.
It’s very difficult to judge your own website (or any visual representation of yourself or company), it’s often either one of two extremes. You either can’t stand it so much that you can’t see the positive aspects or you love it so much that you can’t see the flaws. That’s why on occasion it’s a really good idea to do what we like to call a “site audit”. Don’t worry we aren’t talking about the IRS rummaging through your files. All I mean is having a professional take a detailed look at your site. We look at your general visual design as well as the functionality, searchability, and how well it is selling your products. After doing so we provide a detailed report of recommended changes, why we suggest them, and an estimate on the amount of time it would take us to implement these changes. You certainly are not obligated to make these changes, or you may just pick one or two for now and keep the rest as a wish list!

A few of the areas that we will take our magnifying glasses to will be:
Basic visual design
Navigation functionality
Checkout processes
Search engine optimization
Product page organization
And much more

We have had quite a few of our clients take us up on this opportunity and make some of our suggested changes much to their benefit in profits and traffic. Don’t get left behind, drop us a line at!

A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words

In the fast placed world of social media and its relationship with your online business there is a new rising star. Pinterest is becoming more and more popular with internet users and retail companies.

So what is Pinterest?

Simply put, Pinterest is a place to share pictures. But it does go a bit deeper than that. So a user makes an account (currently you must be invited or sign up for a invite waiting list) using their Facebook or Twitter account, (which you can disconnect later if you wish) Pinterest looks to see if any of your friends are using Pinterest and adds them to your “follow” list. You can also choose to follow more people/companies as time goes on. Your “boards” are essentially categories in which you post or “pin” pictures, say, of your products with a short comment. Your followers will either see your pins on your company’s page or on the “home” page that feeds in all followed users pins. Once a pin is made users have the ability to “like”, which simply adds to the tally of “likes” under the picture and depending on their settings, shows up on their Facebook and/or Twitter account. A user can also comment on the pin and/or “re-pin” which takes the picture and adds it to their own board, allowing their followers to see it.

Pinning it.

So there are a few ways to pin. You can simply upload a photo from you computer, easy enough, but what if you want to pin a picture you are looking at online, do you now have to download the picture then upload it to Pinterest? Nope, they have that covered, when you sign-up (or later if you want) you install a small program whose icon sits next to your bookmarks. Whenever you see an image online that you like and would like to add to one of your boards you simply click the “pin it” icon and all the images on the page pop up for you to choose from and you add your comments and poof, it is added to your site for all to see. The final way, and one I think all retailers should have, to pin an image is to have a button on your product page (like the Facebook or Twitter button) which allows any visitor to pin it to there own board.

Why should my company join?

Why not? Any way that you can get your products more attention should be done, right? Right. This is especially true with the pin it social button. It is all well and good to post products to your own boards but the real viral power comes when people pin them to there own board. Your Facebook friends probably already know about a lot of your products but when they pin them to their own boards it allows a whole new group of people to see your stuff. When their friends re-pin and their friends re-pin you have just exposed potential thousands of new people to your products.
When someone pins a picture or product to one of their boards they not only can link to your site but can also include a price. Not to mention these links will vastly improve your SEO, the more links out there to your site the better.
Another great SEO benefit is that, unlike other links such as Facebook, your analytics will be able to tell you exactly which product interested a potential client, giving you a good idea which products should be displayed prominently on your site.
Another great idea is to hold a contest. Challenge your clients to get the most re-pins or to show the best picture of one of your products in action. Handing out a 50 dollar gift certificate to the winner may be well worth the exposure that the contest generates.

Where do I go from here?

Check it out for yourself! Or drop me a line at I will be happy to give you some advice, set you up with an account or apply a pin-it button to your product page, trust me it will be well worth it.


SEO 101 – 3 Kinds of Ranking Factors

This post explains three types of “ranking factors” widely believed to be important to Search Ranking at both Google and Bing.   These are:

1)      On-site factors:  What are the words on your page and how do they relate to the keywords in the search.   The search engines look at the code of your webpage.  Can they find keywords in that code.   Are the keywords found in places that the search engine thinks are important?  Is the url of your page one that implies that the page is “on target” for the search?

2)      Off-site factors:  What sites link to your site and to the pages of your site?   What keywords are in the link text that is clickable in those links?   The most talked about example is Google PageRank.  PageRank is a number that Google shows for a given webpage that shows in very rough and generic way how much “link juice” a page is understood by Google to have.   Generally speaking, if a page has more links from many different reputable sites, it will have more PageRank and will have a better chance of ranking for searches.

3)      “Keyword Agnostic Signals”:  This is a relatively new addition to ranking factors and in some ways it overlaps with Off-site factors.  Keyword Agnostic signals are things like the amount of traffic occurring at the website, the success rate of the website for engaging visitors, social mentions for the website , site speed, the age of the domain, the freshness of the content.

Do you have to score well on all three of these to rank?   It depends how competitive the ranking is for the particular term (keyword phrase) you are asking about.  Some phrases are much more competitive than others.

How can you tell which factors are the most important?   Most professional search professionals learn from trying things and from reading what other people are saying.   Matt Cutt’s blog (  is a very valuable resource since Matt is “on the inside” at Google. has an annual survey of SEO luminaries which is an important reference to the leading thinking in SEO.  Check it out at



SEO 101 – Page Titles, Meta Tags and Search Friendly URLS on CV3

UPDATED 05/13/2014: Welcome to our new series on “SEO Best Practices” in the CV3 environment.   These posts will be tagged as SEO 101, SEO 201, and SEO 301 depending on how advanced they are.  Please let us know what you think.

This post is about how to improve your CV3 site’s “On-site ranking factors” by customizing your page titles, meta descriptions and urls.  These are things you can do on your site to make your pages more search engine friendly.

Title Tags

In my opinion, optimizing your title tags is the single greatest “bang for your buck” in SEO. That does not mean that keywords in your title are sufficient to get you ranking for keyterms, but they are an element that is easy to change and which search engines look at to determine what your page is about.  It is an eCommerce best practice to take the time to come up with keyword rich page titles for the different pages of your website.


  1. Title tags should be no longer than 60 characters in length and not contain commas. You can use pipes, dashes and colons (“|”, “-“, “:”), but not more than once.
  2. Try to write it like a catchy title to an article.
  3. Keywords in the title should only be relevant to what is on the page and include brand name only at the end.
  4. Never use keyword phrase more than once and try to keep it toward the front of the title.


Bad: Red Tomatoes | Buy Red Tomatoes | Red Tomatoes Online | Your Brand

Good: Red Cherry Tomatoes Large Selection | (This page would be about cherry tomatoes)

A great way to tell if Google likes your title is to look at the search results for that page. If your title matches the title in the search results then you are good. If it does match the search results that means that Google does not like your page title and has come up with its own title for that page.

(To see what your page looks like in search results type in to Google search “site: http://Your URL)

Meta Keywords

Meta Keywords have been retired and are no longer used by search engines. (leave them blank).

Meta Description

The meta description field is important. It is sometimes used on the engines’ search results pages as the descriptor of the page that accompanies the clickable link.   It is worthwhile to write a good meta description for your pages to help your search listings get more clicks. That is an important part of SEO often overlooked as people tend to focus on ranking alone.

  1. Limit your meta description to 140-155 characters.
  2. Try to use your keyword phrase in the description twice.
  3. Make sure that the description is relevant to what is on the page focusing on the product or service.
  4. Describe benefits of your product or service (marketing copy) this will increase click through rates.

Search Friendly URLs

Search friendly urls are urls that have words the search engine can read and understand. These urls can have keywords that tell the search engine that your page is about the keyword topic and therefore can help you rank for a keyword search in a way that a typical “dynamic url” can’t.

Always use dashes as opposed to underscores between words. Search engines view dashes as a space, but if an underscore is used Search Engines view it as part of one word. Always use lowercase and never use spaces, commas, quotations, apostrophes, parenthesis or dollar signs.


This url is not friendly:

This url is friendly:

Bonus Tips:

Product Descriptions

This field is also important. You can use the same method you would for your meta descriptions. Include the search term for the product in the description.  (You can use the Meta Description for your product description.)

Product Names

When coming up with a product title, try to keep it short but descriptive.

For example, if you sell brown high heel shoes:

You would not want to have the title as “brown shoes” or “high heel shoes” you want it to be “Brown High Heel Shoes”. Better yet, include the brand if it’s one shoppers would be searching for like “Gucci Brown High Heel Shoes”

Keep in mind if this page is exclusively focused on “Brown High Heel Shoes” this should also be a part of your page title, Meta description and Product description.


How to Edit Title Tags and Meta Tags in CommerceV3

In the left navigation go to “Marketing” then click on “Meta Tags”.

Click on Default and you will see the edit Meta Tags interface:

You can fill in the Title Tag, Keyword and  Description fields here.

Considerations for Title Tag
-Put your keywords first and any general info second, e.g. “Civil War Biographies – Rare Historical Books for Collectors”,  “French Revolution Books – Rare Historical Books for Collectors”, etc
-Limit the title to 65 characters. Google will crop your title to the nearest full word.
-All titles should be typed in Title Case (or Proper Case)

Consideration for Meta Tags
Description-  Depending on the page, you can either write 3-4 sentences about what the page is about (remember to use good keywords), or you can write out structured data, i.e. just the facts.   I think this latter technique is especially good for product pages (see below).

Keywords- Pick 10-25 keywords or keyphrases and separate them with commas.

Category Pages and Product Pages:

CV3 does a great job of providing good page titles at the category and product level. By default, the page titles on category pages are simply the category name. In many cases this is a pretty good title. However, category names can be optimized for SEO by adding more keywords either before or after the category name. To do this, navigate to the Edit Category page in your CV3 admin (under Inventory in the left navigation) and then add your preferred page title in the “Meta Title” field in the Information section of the page.

The meta description and meta keywords fields are where you can edit your category page’s meta tags. The general rules for these fields are the same as described in the section above. However, remember to reinforce the category’s keyword themes in the meta fields.

For product pages, CV3 again does a fine job with titles. By default the page title for a product page will be [Category Name] –[Product Title].  That might be very good. However, sometimes you might want to do something different. For example, a bookstore might have the title of the book as the product title. It might be smart to make the page title include the Author’s name as well since people often search by author. To change Titles and Metas for products in CV3 navigate to the Edit Product page and edit the fields under Product Display -> Product Display.

Page Templates

CommerceV3 allows you to specify a unique title, description, and set of keywords for each “top level” template.    This allows you  each static template to be given unique meta information to further increase SEO. Top level templates are those like “viewcart.tpl”. Other templates, like  _top.tpl, which are included within other templates will not have the custom meta information applied to the page.

To edit, navigate to your template list (Design -> Template Library), find and click the template, expand the Edit Meta Information section and Customize.


Note: CV3 also provides ways to write title and meta tags automatically according to a formula. This is beyond the scope of this blog post. If you are interested in this topic, let us know and we will write a subsequent post specifically on this.

How to Make Search Friendly URLs in CommerceV3

CommerceV3 makes it easy to make search friendly urls for your categories and products. To make a search friendly category url, navigate to the Edit Category page and, expand the Options section and type the name you want to use for pages in this category.

And it will show up like this:


For products, navigate to the Product, Expand Product Display -> Product Display and type the words you want to use in the url for the product.

And it will show up like this:

Note: You should not use spaces in the category or product url fields.   Separate the words with dashes instead.

With a little effort on these three areas – titles, metas, and custom URLs, you will have a solid foundation for optimizing your CommerceV3 website for search.  Look for upcoming posts on more SEO techniques in the coming weeks, including using Google Webmaster Tools, the different types of Ranking Factors that determine your search position and ways to build inbound links.  As always, please let us know if this post has been helpful to you.



First Thoughts on Google Plus One

Have you heard about Google Plus One  (+1)?    Google launched it earlier this month and seems to be poised to push it.  For example, it’s front and center on Google Ad Innovations currently (great site which makes a great default homepage, by the way:, and it’s a very logical play for Google as they embrace social.


Here’s what I love about it

Plus 1 brings social media to where eCommerce people really need it – Search.   Social is here to stay and there’s no doubt that social connections are going to continue to influence ecommerce buying decisions more and more. Plus One puts Google in an interesting place in this dynamic.  It allows them to leverage the unique selling proposition of the adwords platform – very powerful psychographic targeting capabilities via keywords to have gain a foothold in social.

I also really love that the Plus Ones you see are only of those people whom you know.   That makes the recommendation much stronger in my opinion and it makes Plus One much more useful to me.  That’s pretty cool.

So I think it’s an interesting and smart play by Google  …  um, good for them, but “So what?”     Can you as a marketer jump on this and make a huge difference for your brand?

I don’t think so… not yet.


What I don’t love about it

1) You have to have a public Google Profile to Plus One something.   It’s pretty easy to do, but the problem is that few people have done it and I’m not sure that people will be compelled to do it.  What’s the upside for them?   It seems to me that there isn’t an immediate payback for doing so.  On Facebook you get to hear about the lives of people – long lost friends, neighbors, family, etc.   People share stories.  Plus One is a lot less rich.

But perhaps this isn’t at all what Plus One is trying to be.

I guess it’s a bit like Amazon ratings… people DO seem to do those…but the difference is that they are talking to the whole world and not just their friends.   I think that stage is the attraction and incentive.   Imagine if the only reviews you saw on Amazon were those by your friends.   How often would that be useful?

It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg problem with Google Plus One.   I suppose if I were to start really seeing value of commentary from friends, I would be inclined to pay back that Karmic debt.   At this point, however, I’m seeing nothing.

Maybe Google is big enough to overcome this.   I feel like they have been patient in the past with new offerings.   They put something out there and learn… They continue to innovate and find new ways to bring value and in time the offering is really compelling.  Gmail was like that,  Adwords didn’t start as the leader in it’s space, Analytics has gotten better year after year and looks to be poised for a great leap in 2011.   Maybe Plus One will just take time.

But the bottom line is that it is NOT super important to most marketers at this time.   There just isn’t a population there yet.


That said, what is the downside of promoting Plus One on your website?   There is very little investment for you as a website owner to do so.   Sure, not alot of people will use it, but it probably does behoove you to get in the game and start seeing what Plus One is and how it’s being used.   My understanding is that data will be available with Google Webmaster Tools (which in turn is becoming more integrated with Google Analytics).  It’s Google, after all – they are always worth watching.

Besides that, the other trick is to be great in the other things you do.   Have a great product, have incredible customer support and get Plus Oned.  That’s a piece of cake, right?














The Next Big Thing: Multi-channel Funnels

Want to see how all your marketing efforts work together to create a conversion? The new Multi-Channel Funnels feature in Google Analytics does this by showing you all the marketing efforts (or channels) a buyer interacted with prior to purchasing. It includes everything: organic search, paid search, affiliates, ads, social networks and more. Here’s an introductory video on multi-channel funnels.

Google Changes Algorithm in Response to NYT Story

A long and sensational New York Times Story last Friday detailed an ecommerce customer-service nightmare with a bizarre twist: An assertion by the unrepentant merchant, that far from being a problem, poor customer service and online negative reviews actually benefited his business, thanks to Google’s Page Rank algorithm.

The business, a discount eyewear joint called DecorMyEyes, allegedly refused to credit customers for returned merchandise and even threatened them when their disputes were lodged with their credit card companies.

When several aggrieved customers voiced their complaints on online forums like Get Satisfaction and, their negative reviews (linked to decorMyEyes) only served to boost his Google rankings, according to the merchant, a Brooklyn, New York man named Vitaly Borker.

“I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works,” Borker told the Times. “No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”

The central question posed by the story: Can being a BAD business actually be GOOD for your Google rankings?

Is Google unable to discern, in a link from one site to another, whether it represents a positive “vote” for the target — or an outraged “pan” against it?

Google was quick to jump in direct response to the news story, announcing yesterday it had tweaked its algorithm to weed out “hundreds” of merchants who Google deemed to be bad actors.

Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, who was quoted in the article, offers his own in-depth look at the SEO ramifications of the story. Sullivan notes in a postscript that most of the reviews sites cited actually “nofollow” their links, so couldn’t actually convey the kind of link juice Borker was claiming. Sullivan also touches on the fast-moving integration into SERPS of online ratings and reviews, and other possible signals Google and other search engines could use to better discriminate positive buzz from negative.

Google’s use of “rich snippets” is an exciting development for the 99.9% of ecommerce vendors out there (and 100% of the readers of this blog, of course), who run honest businesses with stellar reputations, and have lots of enticing five-star ratings to share.

The Daily Blogging Experiment – What Happened?

A little over two months ago I announced my intentions to rev up my blogging frequency from “every so often” to a rigorous daily (well, five days a week) pace.

In my post, “Must… Blog… Every Day!” I pointed to research by blogger Justin Kownacki, and commentary by SEO consultant Bruce Clay, that touted the traffic-building benefits of daily blogging.

Kownacki had decreased his own daily blogging schedule in favor of longer and more detailed weekly posts. The problem: His website traffic soon plummeted 36% and his Alexa traffic rank took a nosedive as well.

My own experiment strongly supports the idea that daily blogging drives more traffic. Here are some of the results after I ratcheted up my blogging pace:

  • Google’s crawl frequency increased noticeably within about a week and a half. Today, I can write a new blog post and expect it to be crawled and indexed within 8 hours or less.
  • Within a day of starting the experiment, our daily web traffic climbed noticeably. Within three weeks, visitors were up 56% from the prior month, and 19% year over year (reversing what had been YOY declines). Today, traffic is up 25% YOY.
  • I beganto hear from friends, clients and associates who were watching. I got invited to participate as a paid expert in an online market-research project, and received requests to contribute to other websites or publications.
  • My LinkedIn profile got 50% more daily views, and I received more invitations to connect, and more expertise requests. Twitter followers up a bit, not much.
  • We ranked low on Google’s second page for searches for “Timberline” (I know, I know, not that impressive for an SEO company!). But now we have moved up to the first page, position number four. We rose to number 5 for “ecommerce marketing blog,” and visits from that term tripled. Other terms have improved, too.
  • My posts were picked up via RSS and given great exposure by popular sites like and Who’s Blogging What. Traffic from referring sites like these skyrocketed, and the visitors tended to be qualified traffic, who viewed several pages and showed above-average time on site.


So… if daily blogging is so great for website traffic generation, why haven’t I posted anything here in the past month?

Unfortunately, the exercise took a LOT of time and there was no clear boost yet to our business. Could it just have been a narcissistic exercise in elevating Tom Funk’s brand without helping Timberline’s cash register? I sure hope not!

And there are a couple other factors that derailed my plans for daily posting:

  • My Dad, Stephen W. Funk (1935-2010) passed away earlier this month. Thanks for the well wishes, but it was actually a merciful thing — he went peacefully in his sleep after a long period of declining health, so the family is grateful for that, and we had a terrific send-off down in Florida a week ago.
  • Also, Fourth Quarter, always the busiest time of year for Timberline and its clients, has struck with a vengeance this year. As much as I loved driving more traffic and getting more attention to my blogging efforts, it’s not really where my bread is buttered. Q4 is all about successfully executing clients’ Holiday season online marketing and website development. With all of us working long hours toward that goal, something had to go — and alas, it was blogging.


I’ll have some detailed results on this daily-blogging case study for you, I promise! But it just may have to wait until the dust of Q4 has cleared . . .