Yesterday we reported on the mass hijacking of thousands of Google+ Local listings. In short, over a short period of time a huge number of hotels with business listings for Google Maps and Search. The story was broke open by Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land, who attempted to track down the source of the spam attack, with no concrete evidence to suggest who the culprit actually is.

While the issue could have a big affect on many businesses it the hotel sector, it is more notable for showing that other attacks could happen in the future. Even worse, no one outside of Google has been able to explain how this could occur, especially with the number of big hotel chains affected. The hotels hit with the spam weren’t mom-and-pop bed and breakfast places. Most of the listings were for huge hotel chains, such as the Marriott hotel shown in the example of a hijacked link below.

If Google does know how this was able to happen, they aren’t telling. In fact, Google has been terribly quiet on the issue. They’ve yet to issue an official public statement, aside from telling Sullivan that he could confirm they were aware of the problem and working to resolve it.

The only direct word from Google on the hijackings is a simple response in an obscure Google Business Help thread from Google’s Community Manager, Jade Wang. If it weren’t for Barry Schwartz’s watchful eye, it is possible the statement would never have been widely seen. Wang said:

We’ve identified a spam issue in Places for Business that is impacting a limited number of business listings in the hotel vertical. The issue is limited to changing the URLs for the business. The team is working to fix the problem as soon as possible and prevent it from happening again. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

If you’re a small retailer trying to expand your brand online, social media is an absolutely essential part of the plan. But, there are several different popular social media platforms and most smaller retailers don’t have the resources to invest fully in all of the big platforms. How do you choose which one to favor?

Of course, the best choice for your brand depends on what you are offering to consumers and how you are trying to reach out to them. But, you can also take some notes from what the big retailers are doing with their social media, with the help of social technology company 8th Bridge’s third-annual Social Commerce IQ report.

8th Bridge looks at nearly 900 of the top online retail brands, and evaluates their social adoption and subsequent results.

Their results show two things. Firstly, you should implement social website buttons for at least the three major social media platforms for retailers (Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook). Secondly, and more importantly, Facebook still dominates referral traffic and perceived value. However, the reasons for Facebook’s value to top retailers have changed.

In the past, Facebook has always been favored simply because it was the most popular social media platform by a large margin. However, Facebook has become very competitive, especially for smaller businesses. With so many businesses sharing content on the site, the top retailers have turned to Facebook Exchange to pay for visibility and higher traffic rates.

Facebook is valued by top retailers not because they are the top social platform, but because they have the most viable social advertising platform.

This has the potential for change in the near future however. Facebook has one of the most fully-realized social advertising platforms, and it has been around for significantly longer than the ad options most other platforms offer. For instance, both Pinterest and Instagram are still only in the testing phase for their advertising platforms.

Still, the traffic referral statistics from Twitter may suggest a deeper underlying problem in the social platform’s viability for retailers.

“Traffic from Twitter and Instagram is non-existent for most retailers,” 8th Bridge said in its report. “Only 85 retailers are getting traffic from Twitter and only 55 retailers are getting traffic from Instagram.”

In the end it should come as no surprise that Facebook is still the most reliable social platform for brands of most sizes, but it will only get more competitive. You can still benefit from a non-paid approach to your Facebook presence, but you should expect diminishing returns as time goes on.

You can view the infographic 8th Bridge made from their results below or on their site.

Social Commerce Infographic

Yesterday, thousands of hotels with Google+ Local listings had their pages manipulated to replace their links to official sites with links leading to third-party booking services. Google+ Local listings are what Google uses to provide local results in Google Maps and Google Search.

It currently appears to be isolated entirely to hotels, and Google has already said they are aware of and fixing the problem, but Danny Sullivan’s research into who is responsible for the hijacking has yet to turn up anything concrete. What we do know is that thousands of listings were changed to point to either RoomsToBook.Info,, or

Source: Search Engine Land

Source: Search Engine Land

The problem is, we can’t be sure any of these companies are actually directly responsible. Only one person responded to Sullivan’s inquiries. Karim Miwani, listed on LinkedIn as the director of, replied saying (sic):

We have recently seen this issue and have reported to Google webmaster already. If you have seen any links please forward it to me and I will submit the request.

Our team is already in the process of blocking list of certain domains and IP addresses from back-linking us.

Thank you for pointing this out if you have any more external domains acting in aboce manner please report it to us on

You can get all the details on the hijacking from Danny Sullivan’s investigative report into the issue, but this event has a broader relevance outside of the hotel industry. The mass hijacking of Google’s local listings suggests their is a security flaw in the Google+ Local listings which needs to be addressed and resolved. It may explain why Google has largely remained mum on the subject aside from confirming that it occurred.

You most likely have nothing to worry about with your own local business’s listings, so long as you don’t work in the hotel industry. However, it could have implications about the future of Google+ Local listings. Either the security flaw that allowed this to happen will be fixed, or issues like these could affect other industries on a larger scale.

Considering how important these listings are to Google Maps and Search, a larger attack could be a serious problem for Google.

Recently Rap Genius, a popular lyric website focused on hip-hop music, became the talk of the internet as they basically disappeared from Google’s search results. They were hit with a penalty for link schemes, and the event may have been one of the most talked about SEO stories in recent history.

Now, 10 days after they were essentially removed from the search results, Rap Genius is ranking when searching for it on Google by name. It should be noted, the site was never completely removed from Google, but their content was showing up six and seven pages back in the results, which is pretty much just as bad.

Rap Genius

Source: Search Engine Land

We know the site lost a huge amount of traffic when they were penalized, but it is unclear how they are faring now that they are back. Most likely, Rap Genius will still struggle to regain their former foothold, at least temporarily. When searching by name, the actual website for Rap Genius is still listed below several news stories about their SEO troubles.

The site is also not ranking as well for many lyric searches they previously would have been listed for. Some lyric searches show Rap Genius, but Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land shows they are still stuck on page seven for several searches.

Rap Genius is definitely the most publicly discussed SEO penalty so far. It has been reported on by Rolling Stone, NBC News, Huffington Post, and several other major news outlets. It is also the perfect case study for why you should never attempt to game the search engines for better rankings.

Rap Genius has been consistently transparent about the issues that occurred and what they have done to fix them, as well as what they can do in the future. You can read their initial apology here, as well as their more detailed blog post here. The blog post also concludes with an apology:

To Google and our fans: we’re sorry for being such morons. We regret our foray into irrelevant unnatural linking. We’re focused on building the best site in the world for understanding lyrics, poetry, and prose and watching it naturally rise to the top of the search results.

Rap Genius is seeing a relatively quick return to the search results, thanks to their dutiful efforts to fix the problems and their transparency. However, it will still be a long time before they reach their former status. It just shows that illegal SEO may get you results in the short-term, but you will eventually get caught.

Google Updates Banner

No matter what you personally think about Google, there are two undeniable facts about the massive company. They are the number one source of online searches by a wide margin, and they are constantly changing. Trying to keep track of all the individual updates from Google can be dizzying. It seems every time you are almost adjusted to one change, there is a new update popping up.

But, following the changes over at Google is important for anyone running a website. There are some pretty clear patterns in Google’s updates over the past year, and if you want your website to be successful through 2014, you will need to be prepared for the types of changes on the horizon.

To assist you in reviewing the changes from last year, E2M Solutions produced an infographic that covers a few of the most important updates on Google Search during 2013. As you might expect, Penguin and Panda are both big parts of the infographic. But, there are also some less known search updates such as Google Hummingbird.

The infographic isn’t perfect however. Search Engine Land points out that Hummingbird was not rolled out on August 20, 2013, as it is listed. Also, “Link Devaluation” has never been confirmed by Google, and thus it is only speculation. It is arguably pretty clear that links have lost some of their power in the past year, but it can be debated how that was actually implemented.

You can view the infographic below, or over at E2M’s website.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Social media sites have a history of not lasting for very long in the grand scheme of things. Few are even familiar with Friendster these days, and Myspace has had to revamp their entire strategy to cater to musicians. Even then, it is entirely questionable whether the site has had much success since they relaunched. So what makes Facebook different? Is it immune from the quickly passing trends of social media?

The answer depends on who you are asking, of course. While those who have avoided Facebook for years will be quick to tell you the social platform is on its way out, the statistics show that Facebook still absolutely dominates the market, and they are gaining even more ground in older demographics. Teens may not be excited about Facebook anymore, but they are still using the site to connect with their grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and friends who are too far away to interact with.

Facebook’s recent audience growth with older users is also indicative of the larger reason Facebook may be sticking around for quite some time. Everyone is on it. As Phil Buckley recently showed when he did some informal surveys on social media, the majority of Facebook users cite its widespread usage as their main reason for coming back every day.

It can be a tenuous thread holding the site together, but it is fairly reliable. I’ve seen many “quit” Facebook, but they often eventually return due to family or friends.
So, when Phil Buckley says 2013 was the year we reached “peak Facebook”, I have to question it. There have been reports throughout the year that Facebook was losing ground in younger demographics, who are choosing newer and more niche social platforms like Tumblr or SnapChat. Still, Facebook has denied the claims, and the numbers show they are still growing.

As with all social media trends, the only way to find out is just sitting back and letting the will of the public decide. Social media is a fickle field, but I’m still of the belief that Facebook will remain safely in its throne through at least the next year.

2014The New Year is here and many are already looking forward, making resolutions and formulating predictions about the year to come. But, we can’t know what is going to look for in the future without looking back at 2013. The past year brought big changes to online marketing thanks to some big revisions in Google’s policies and the ever-changing world of design.

Whether you spent the past year doing the Harlem Shake or actively following all the notable blogs to keep your site up to the latest standards, you might want to refresh yourself on the big events and articles from the past year. With that in mind, we thought we would share our most popular posts from 2013. You can remind yourself what mattered in 2013, and see what might be important in 2014.

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