Google Instant preview launched recently and many sites should be in the process of making changes to major landing pages, if people actually use the new feature ( see a small study from Simple Usability ). Crawling over some serps here’s a few lessons to be learnt about landing page design now that Google have unleashed instant preview.

1) Flash

Everything about flash is pretty much a negative when it comes to Google. Currently a flash site or a flash object in a page will be displayed as a grey box with a little jigsaw in. For example Fiat.

But, Google have said they are working on being able to render the Flash to display in in the preview, so it might not be a problem…. however this brings us onto point two.

2) Timed Elements

If you’ve been good and not used flash but used either HTML 5, or some slidy wizzy JQuery then your little animation will show up in the page preview as the bot that takes the screenshot has JavaScript enabled (see the preview for “xmas clock”).

But, the screen shot is taken after a certain period of time. There are two options for Google to when this screen shot is taken.

A – screenshot after the page has loaded

or

B – Take the shot after a certain time e.g. 5 seconds the average time for a page to load.

I’m guessing that Google uses a combination of the two, screenshot if the page is loaded, if it’s still loading at 5 seconds then take the screenshot. This would stop Google wasting time on pages that would never load or take too long to load.

This page (http://www.java-scripts.net/javascripts/Countdown-Timer.phtml) counts down from 30 seconds, and on the instant preview the time of 24.6 seconds is shown, so the screenshot was taken after 5.4 seconds.

If you have an animation or a change of divs being displayed think about what is displayed after 4-5 seconds, but there are no guarantee that the screen preview will pick up the animation you want.  For example http://www.bensky.co.uk/ has a sliding div, on this example the Trails UK site was displayed this time, it could change from week to week.

or the xfactor Talk Talk page, which features a fade in it’s taken it mid fade.

So having changing elements on your page is risky as you can’t predict when the page preview is taken, so keeping flash may be a risk.

3) Questionnaires / Site Survey / Age – Pop ups

If you have a site survey or questionnaire or age verification running on your site it’s going to be picked up on the preview. Often the question box will pop up in the middle of the screen, with the surroundings faded away.  You could try to add an exception so it’s not show for the googlebot IP. For example Carling has the age verification.

On money saving expert the background fades for the subscribe to newsletter to be highlighted.

4) Advert pages / Home page takeovers / Splash pages

The majority of the football team pages in the UK all have a offer page before getting to the main site, you may employ something similar for a temporary home page take over or offer. Or for some bizarre reason you may have a splash page, either option they don’t tend to look great in the preview. E.g. blackpoolfc.co.uk

5) Geotargeting Redirects / Messaging

The bot that takes the screen capture comes from Google, so it has a United States IP (see the page preview for whatismyip.com). If you have any redirects or message pop ups for US IP’s they will be displayed in the search results. Some examples include the BBC where the American version is shown with banner adverts, here for DHL.

Clarks have a similar problem where a pop up box asks you choose location, this only happens for a non UK IP.

So in conclusion watch out for:

  1. Flash
  2. Timed Events
  3. Questionnaires / Site Survey / Age – Pop ups
  4. Advert Pages / Home Page takeovers / Splash pages
  5. Geotargeting Redirects / Messaging

As for designing for site Google Instant Preview… thats another blog post.

Over the past few months I’ve noticed more title tags and meta descriptions using different types of characters to stand out in the search results. PPC has led the way with uses of planes, bullet points, trade mark symbols. Problem is many adverts get disapproved by Google.

Organically it’s about testing what can and can’t indexed. So below I’ve made a list of characters that will get indexed in a title tag and display in the search engine results. Before the list a few interesting points from this experiment.

  • Using the intitle: command doesn’t work, for example try “intitle:£” in Google and it returns nothing. Yet there are plenty of title tags with the £ symbol.
  • A symbol can be hard-coded into a title tag but when you use a CMS it may try to convert it. Thus meaning to get some of the symbols into titles you’ll need to bypass your CMS or change the way it works.
  • If you have a symbol in the title tag that Google won’t index they’ll skip the character when displaying the title tag in the search result.

To conduct the test I:

  • 11 pages linked to sitewide on another site of mine
  • Each page linked to each other
  • Title tag contacted the special characters, as did the meta description.
  • Waited for all the pages to be indexed and then viewed using a site command with inurl:test as the file names were test1, test2, etc

Here are the valid symbols with screenshots of them in the search results.

´^¯¨¸_-,;:!¡?¿.·”‘””””+””=”«»()[]{}§§¶©®@*/\&%°±±÷<>¬|~

¤¢$££¥ªÁáàÂâÅåÄäÃãÆæÇçÉéÈèÊêËëÍíÌìÎîÏïÑñºÓóÒòÔôÖöÕ

←↑→↓↔⇐⇑⇒()[]{}〕〔›‹〉〈«»⎛⎞⎡⎤⎧⎫⎬⎨⎥⎢⎟⎜⎝⎠⎣⎦⎪⎪⎩⎭ – Note – WordPress won’t display the characters, see screenshot below.

$¢£¥฿₥₤₣₢₡₦₧₨₩₪₯₮₭€₫¤₠₰₱•%‰‱†‡º°˚

©®™

µΩ℃№ℑℜ

①②③④⑤⑥⑦⑧⑨⑩❶❷❸➀➁➂➊➋➌⁰¹²₀₁₂½⅓⅔

ΑΒΓΔΕΖΗΘΙΚΛΜΝΞΠΣΡΤΥζεδγβαΨΧΦθ

ηικλμξπϑωφϕϖ

Theres were plenty that didn’t work including symbols of scissors, aeroplanes, hearts, clubs, spades etc. I’ve noticed some sites already use the trademark and copyright symbols, for example. GHD hair straighteners and Sony. What can you do with symbols above? Here’s a few mock ups that I’ve firebugged

888.com using the numbers 8 to stand out on the term online casino.

My own site using characters before and after the text.

Use the half price for cheap flights offers.

The Church of england using little crosses.

Using a number for Radio 1, pretty cool

Joking aside, over the past few months Google have made several changes to the 1st page has made it difficult for a standard organic ranking.  Product, image, reviews, local, maps listings etch all stand out more than an organic listing. If you have an organic listing in a very competitive market you need to work your title tag and description hard to increase the CTR.

If you’ve liked this post and you have a site with a decent level of traffic why not try out using different characters, use Google Webmaster Tools to see changes in CTR, positive or negative.

If you find any other characters that work, please email johnpcampbell1985 (@) googlemail (.) com or leave a comment below or send me a message on twitter.

Posted in SEO.

One of the standout features from Google Places is the review data being added into the search results. Anyone selling online in the past two / three years will tell you how much impact can be gained from positive third party review of your product or service.

But similar to search rankings you can inflate your positive reviews and …. deflate your competitor’s reviews (don’t do this as it just creates a vicious circle of fake review posting).

Looking at the listings on Google Places currently Google is displaying…

  • Thumbnail picture
  • Address and phone number
  • Finding reviews from various sources
  • Displaying a count for 3 / 4 review sites
  • Creating a total sum for all the reviews
  • Pulling our an average rating out of 5.
  • Sometime displaying a snippet of a review

All those items are optional, the majority of the examples I’ve seen feature all the above, but I’ve also seen some with just the image, address and phone number.

The review site used doesn’t even have to have any microformats data. Google will count a citation of the hotel’s address and phone number with a comment as a review. For example http://www.adoniscabaret.co.uk/ is listed as a review site for the Norwood Hotel in Blackpool. The review isn’t in any microformat, its coded in atag in a table.

So it seems you don’t even need reviews to be on “review site”, I’ve seen a hotel review located on a chef site, beerintheevening etc.

Tip 1. Make citations to your hotel on other sites, even if it’s not a hotel review site. Use the full address, phone number and then list review under a heading “Customer Review”

It appears such reviews won’t contribute to the star rating, this only appears to come from bigger sites such as Trip Advisor, where microformats are in place or Google have been willing to scrape the data.

In general it looks better to have more reviews than less reviews. E.g. a place with 4 reviews doesn’t seem as good as a place with 452 reviews.

To work out which sites are being used to source the reviews I’ve recorded and counted the review sites over 10 search terms, on average listing 6 local listings with 3 to 4 review sites for each listing.

I picked the key phrase “hotels in… Blackpool, Preston, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, London”

The below table shows the review sites listed often. In total there were 230 review sites listed.

Trip Advisor came out top with 63 listing over the 10 different search results. Booking.com and Active Hotels were also popular. Interestingly sometimes different domains of the same site are used e.g. Trip Advisor uk, com, ie, in all list as separate sites.

One site managed a list a review from the same domain??

Tip 2. Get listed on the most popular sites in your sector. Look for local listings sites, e.g. Sites with the location in the URL.

Strangely at the moment it doesn’t appear if that any of the reviews given to Google directly are being displayed in the search engine results. On each local business listing (e.g. the midland hotel) Google users can add reviews, this doesn’t seem to be used or listed as a review site.

Clicking the “xxx reviews Place page” or stars takes you to your local business listing with Google. This is going to be getting a higher level of traffic due to the link being more prominent on the page and being next to the stars. People will want to check over a couple of review before considering the hotel or making a booking.

Tip 3. Ensure you have claimed your local business listing on Google, filled out as much information as possible and respond to any negative comments in a professional and positive manner.

Most of these tips should be relevent in other sectors restaurants, services etc. The difference will be the review sites, for restaurants e.g. Tipped, Urban Spoon etc. If you looking to improve you rank I would suggest counting which review sites are being listed and start to add reviews onto those sites.

In the spreadsheet linked below the first worksheet contains the review sites in the hotels sector. So if your promoting a hotel I would suggest looking over the list and ensure your hotel is listed on the top sites. I’ll expand the spreadsheet over time adding in which review sites are referenced in different sectors e.g. restaurants, local services etc

https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AjxfcMN-m2jndHlmNElUVkpDYWgxZHZuMmRGeEF1YlE&hl=en_GB

It’s going to be interesting over the next couple of months to see more review services popping up, how the result change and more importantly how Google handle people’s problems with Google places, the official forums are notorious for being full of complaints, people pointing out errors and very very frustrated local business owners. I’ve got a feeling that a few more business owners are going to be getting even more frustrated with Google.

A little test, recent changes with Google Street view allow you to report a problem with images.  While on the location with a problem there’s a little link at the bottom to “report a problem”.

After that you explain what is the problem and you fill in a form. You’ll get a email and a couple of days later the image is gone. I tested this out last week and today the intersection near to the local chippy now is a black screen.

The point is that there is no control over me deleting images in front of businesses. Many business such as hotels and restaurants will be getting extra trade from people being able to ‘check out’ the location before hand. This report an problem has created a free for all allowing competition to literally wipe you off the map.

Infographics are the ‘in’ thing to produce at the moment for link baiting. If you haven’t come across one they can be summed up as

Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics present complex information quickly and clearly[1], such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education. – Wikipedia

A few examples can be seen at Infographics directory site www.infographicsshowcase.com. The best infographics are gennerally ones based on a subject matter of current interest, so this week could be a on the Ashes with England going over to Australia or about Cargo planes after the bomb scare.

In order to make infographic you need some raw data, and here’s a list of 5 sites which can supply you with the vital data.

1. UK National Statistics http://www.statistics.gov.uk/hub/

The Publication Hub at the UK National Statistics is a first port of call for all those seeking the latest statistics from government departments in the UK. It is the central website for hosting all first releases of National Statistics. New data is released daily on whole range of subjects from Taxation, Wars, Education, Hospitals, Business and growth etc etc. All free to download and there’s a release calendar of up and coming reports.

URL : http://www.statistics.gov.uk/hub/

2. Guardian Data Store http://www.guardian.co.uk/data-store

Lots of different types of data in different areas. There’s also some on going data generation on the War in Afganistan, Swine Flu etc. There’s a list of Applications, a API to grab data directly. Keep up to data with new data via the twitter account. You should also look at how the Guardian use the data in their  news stories producing graphs, flash animations etc.

URL : http://www.guardian.co.uk/data-store

3. BBC Backstage http://ideas.welcomebackstage.com/

At the moment it looks like it’s been shut down but some of the data and feeds are being kept live. There’s data in the form of RSS, API’s, a music API etc all that can be downloaded sorted and then visualised. Similar to the Guardian the BBC create some great info infographics in articles and features on the site, recently the reporting of the July 7th enquiry and the Chilean miners generated some brilliant pages of information which generated plenty of links.

URL : http://ideas.welcomebackstage.com/data

4. London Data Store http://data.london.gov.uk/

There are other places in the UK than London but the London Data Store has some great information on transport, education results, crime, emergency services etc. It’s a pretty new site but there is more and more data being added on a regular basis as well as a growing community.

URL : http://data.london.gov.uk/datasets

5. Data.Gov.UK http://data.gov.uk/

Probably the most well known from this list. The official Government site for UK has lots of data, help and a great community behind it. There’s an ideas section where people are submitting ideas for the release of data and then what to do with the data once it’s available. A selection of apps also show what has been created so far e.g. mash up maps, iphone aps etc. You may be able to use one of the existing apps to find data for your infographic.

URL : http://data.gov.uk/

Bonus 6. Data.Gov http://www.data.gov/

Similar to Data.Gov.UK but for the United states of America. Again plenty of information often country wide but also organised by state which can lead to som interesting data. Many infographics have been created as a result of the data generated out of Data.Gov

URl : http://www.data.gov