Ad Fraud Is Off The Charts

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing

28% of Website Traffic is Non-Human…says Adobe in a Wall Street Journal article.
Fraudulent Web Traffic Continues to Plague Advertisers, Other Businesses

Adobe found that about 28% of website traffic showed strong “non-human signals,” leading the company to believe that the traffic came from bots or click farms.

Bot Traffic in Apache logs
Bot Traffic in my Apache logs

Anyone who runs a webserver would not disagree with that. It just takes a brand name company in tech to say it so that this stuff sticks to the wall.

So yes, Fraudulent Web Traffic Continues to Plague Advertisers, Other Businesses is true. Bob Hoffman says Ad Fraud Is Off The Charts. I love his stuff. Ya know, ten billion here, ten billion there…it starts to add up. Read more by Bob Hoffman.

According to another ad fraud expert, Dr. Augustine Fou, “No matter what you are hearing or reading about digital ad fraud, I can assure you it’s actually worse than you think.”

Posted on

Diary of Google My Business

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing

This is the unvarnished version of the Ultimate Google My Business Guide, calling-out all those happy horse shit blogs about the so-called “support” that Google My Business (GMB) provides.

The Ultimate GMB Guide is here but that is just a rehash of Google guides – just a bit more straight forward.

But if you are here reading this, it means that The Ultimate Generic Guide won’t solve your problems, nor will it make your pain disappear.

Unlike the SEO “experts” writing blogs which make Google’s support sound like a pleasant walk in the park, I’m here to tell you it is anything but. I am one of those webmasters that actually does the work first-hand, and this is my experience.

#1 – Contrary to the what the experts write, you need to be disabused of the idea that GMB support DOES SOMETHING for you. When you ask them to actually “do something”, they will say “we can only guide you sir”. They explicitly say THEY DON’T DO ANYTHING.

Now here is one of those happy horse shit blogs

They write “staff is still incredibly helpful” and “they’ll be able to shut them down immediately“. Sounds like bullshit, because it is. GMB support is just following instructions on their screen. They won’t actually do anything except say rote-friendly things like “I understand your frustration” and “thank you for your patience” and they will not shut anything down.

Here are a few tips that might relieve some pain and speed your recovery.

#2 – Understand that Google probably (theory) makes more money if your GMB is screwed up. So no reason to think they are going to solve your problem quickly – thus the slow-motion labyrinth you currently find yourself in.

When you have 2 GMB listings that are causing your website to rank poorly – and I can prove that 2 listings will cause your website to NOT show up in Business Card where the big clicks are, you will be then compelled to spend more on ads to get the same traffic. (this part is not theory)

#3 – Google probably does not delete anything. First and foremost, Google is in the data mining business and they archive EVERYTHING. This has several negative implications for us when (supposedly) deleting location information like GMB listings and you can see that logic as things unfold…

#3a – If you manage to claim a listing (now you have 2 – a Published listing and a Duplicate listing). Regardless of what your support rep tells you, and in spite of what the final delete screen shows, the NEWER LISTING WILL BE DELETED.* It just happened to me. I was told the duplicate would be deleted – duplicate to whom?

I was given conflicting instructions from different GMB support reps. I was first told not to remove the duplicate listing. And that once I claimed the duplicate, the 2 listings would be merged. Well that never happened. On the next support call, I was told to remove and delete the duplicate. I asked (in writing) “will you confirm that nothing will be lost”? “No sir”.

Once that duplicate was deleted, the newer listing was gone. There goes a years worth of content! And we were left with a listing we did not create and with content that was now over a year old.

*Reviews will not be deleted. (see #3) Reviews will be MERGED, but everything else will disappear never to be recovered. Curious how that works, No?

(in this scenario, the business was purchased from a prior owner, the owner created a NEWER listing, while there also existed an OLDER listing which was never transfered due to lost logins).

Lesson learned: Google is going to delete the NEWER listing! You have no say in this! Google does it their way and support tells you what you want to hear AND THEY DON’T ACTUALLY DO ANYTHING!

#3b – Now you have Manager access of the OLD listing. You need Owner access. You get to start over and request Ownership and wait 7 days again.

#4 – When something goes wrong (in our scenario in #3a), your support rep will do 2 things, a) refer you to Adwords support (Really? Really! It just happened to me) and/or b) they will stop responding to your email.

#4a – When you call in AGAIN, and your rep is now curiously never available. The rep who answers your call this time will say “They will be in touch shortly. Thank you for your patience.” Click – end of the call and funny…I never get the survey at the end of those calls anymore.

Here is a twist. If you are trying to claim a listing, for reasons known only to Google and the current “Owner” (usually an agency) you may be given only Manager privileges. What good is that? You need Ownership to do many important things (besides the principal of the matter – that you are the owner of the business). KNOW THIS: you need to make the OWNERSHIP request using a DIFFERENT email than the email that is currently a Manager. What? This makes no sense and no one would normally arrive at that conclusion by themselves. I was told something like “its for your own protection”. Yeh, where have I heard that before?

I can document everything in this post. I have the email. I thought carefully before writing this post. I would like to provoke a response from the Google sycophants or from Google, who should take steps to see that their support is not giving advice that is destructive with no recourse otherwise. Where do you go when support screws up? We lost a years worth of content and then support won’t answering email or making things right (recover our lost content).

Some will say that the service is free and therefore we should not expect anything but a “best effort” from support. I argue that you overlooked how much money we spend on Adwords which is not “free” and Google My Business is fully integrated with Adwords. GMB has a huge affect on the efficacy of Adwords (ads).

Posted on

How to Add Rich Snippets for Reviews and Ratings

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Like everything we do, the subject of this post is really “How to get better visibility in Google Search Results”. Isn’t that what everything is about?

Use this How To post as a way for you (business owners) to understand the scope of the subject as well. Its not just about Review snippets. Here is how Google describes it.

Integrate with Search to help grow your business > Enhance Your Presence on Search > Search is evolving beyond ten blue links to bring your content to people in much richer and faster ways. Learn how structured data markup can drive users to your content and services with rich results on the Search results page.

Here are the features you have at your disposal to accomplish that.

For most business we work with, this is what we want – Local Business schema

And finally the Rich Snippets for Reviews and Ratings

Login to your Google Search Console (GSC) >
Structured Data Testing Tool >
Fetch & Validate >
Expand Reviews Section >

Posted on

Mobile First SEO Tricks & Tips

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing We’ll assume you know that SEO in 2017 is now exclusively mobile oriented. You won’t be talking about desktop optimization anymore because Google isn’t going to be talking about desktop SEO anymore. Its all about mobile for the rest of your life.

So we have a quick trick to test if your website needs help, below.

So what does the average business owner need to know about their website and mobile first search optimization?

(Remember years ago when they said you didn’t need to do SEO because Google does not want you to optimize your website?) Today Google writes an awful lot about optimizing your website – for mobile devices and therefore mobile search. Never say never!

Mobile devices have different sizes of screens and not fast and unlimited bandwidth. So optimization is about your website looking good on any device and loading quickly. That’s it!

Now for the techie it means reading about

Again these things are not super complex, there are just so many of these little things to consider that its a full time job, and that means a business owner has to hire someone to do the job for them. ( BTW the days of DIY SEO are over too ) In order to hire someone, you would like to know what they are supposed to do – exactly. You could start here – in fact it is ALL right there.

Now if your website is older – or even if it isn’t and has a responsive design, you want to know if its going to please Googlebot. Here is our trick as promised. Does your site have a “Vary Header” function call? Here is what the code looks like in WordPress (functions.php).

function add_vary_header($headers) {
$headers[‘Vary’] = ‘User-Agent’;
return $headers;
add_filter(‘wp_headers’, ‘add_vary_header’);

This communicates with the browser about the size of the screen. This is just a test you can do today that is current for early 2018.

You can go here and test your website for other design weaknesses and search engines “unfriendliness”.

Posted on

Inaccurate Search Rank in Google Search Console

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Google’s Search Console (GSC), formerly Webmaster Tools (GWT) is the go-to for many people looking to determining the performance of their website. Many SEO firms and Third-Party vendors build tools entirely around Google’s Search Console API. For individuals its a warm-and-cozy-and-FREE source for search rank reporting. GSC data and related reporting is so ubiquitous that you would assume it must be, well…ACCURATE.


What if Google’s search rank reporting is inaccurate or plain erroneous?

We stumbled upon this issue because Google’s Search Console told us a client’s website ( don’t click here yet!) ranks an average 8.1 for their brand name keyword (black forest tours). That didn’t make sense. We’ve seen the website perform magnificently in search. It simply crushes all competition. So before you click-through and corrupt your personalization bais, conduct your own search for “black forest tours” and tell us in the comments what position the website got in your SERP.

Why should I use GSC

We searched from many different locations using different computers, employed SearchStation*, called some friends around the world to remove any personalization or location influences, and the website is in fact usually in the #1 spot and sometimes #2 – consistently for an average rank of 1.3 – globally!

Google’s reported average search rank of 8.1 is a huge difference. You would think something like that can’t be. So you have to ask, can we trust Google at all? Google says they “Dont’ Do Evil”. Does that translate into “we don’t mislead for profit?” There would be a strong motive here. If I rank #8 for my money-keywords, then I am highly motivated to pay Google (via Adwords pay-for-position) so that I am #1. Hmmm…

Search Console increasingly offers some useful tools for the webmaster, SEO, and business, but search rank reporting is not one of those.

What can you do about it?

You can use SearchStation* to get accurate real-world search rank reporting and other valuable analysis.

Are there others questioning or challenging the accuracy of search rank as reported in Google Search Console? Yes.

…My message to everyone: think about data quality and validity before using Google Webmaster Tool data for your research, predictions or reporting purposes. It is ok to analyse trends and movements, using individual data points is not recommended.

…Call me unsurprised, but this wasn’t even close. Standard rank tracking methods performed far better at predicting the actual number of clicks than the rank as presented in Google Search Console. We know that GSC’s rank data is an average position which almost certainly presents a false picture.

…Google does not really like others to evaluate what they scrape 🙂 So if you want real rankings from specific locations or languages you’ll have to go with…

*We build SearchStation for exactly these reasons, and more, accurate search rank checking is impossible to get any other way.

Posted on

Google Analytics Direct/Other Traffic Drop – Answered

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Has your website analytics traffic suddenly dropped -80% in the Direct channel?

Normally we would look for this missing traffic to show up elsewhere, but no other channel has increased proportionately. You are probably down @ -50% overall as seen in this screenshot.
Default Channel Direct Drop in Traffic

What has happen?

Don’t panic. That traffic did not go somewhere else. Your search rank did not tank.

The traffic is still coming to your website. It is just not being reported in Google Analytics.


What happened is the referring website was switched to https but your website is still http therefore those visits will not be reported in your Google Analytics.

Didn’t you get this memo? back in 1999 in (RFC 2616)?

Because the source of a link might be private information or might reveal an otherwise private information source, it is strongly recommended that the user be able to elect whether or not the Referrer field is sent. For example, a browser client could have a toggle switch for browsing openly/anonymously, which would respectively enable/disable the sending of Referrer and From information.

That essentially was a privacy design in the https protocol 18 years ago. Now that privacy “option” is the default for our modern browsers. That means no referrer information is passed when outbound https protocol goes to (inbound) http protocol. The assumption is that you don’t want anything passed to an insecure (http) host from a secure (https) host.

Here’s an easy to understand grid of how it works between http and https:

http > http referrer passed
http > https referrer passed
https > https referrer passed
https > http referrer not passed

Back in about 2012 Google implied that employing https (secure internet communications) would increase your search rank performance. Savvy webmasters implemented https right away. “Old” industries didn’t get that memo.

The Cleanest Dirty Shirt

Five (5) years later and our (slow to adapt) website vendors just read what Google said (actually they are suddenly faced with competition forcing them to show they have a cleaner dirty shirt).

How to Fix https-to-http Referral Loss

Three (3) things :

  • 1) All outbound links on the referring website need to be edited to https where they link to an https enabled website.

However, you may not be able to get those links edited by the referrer. And to edit each link individually depending on the receiving protocol? That’s crazy! Everyone has got more important stuff to do. So we have to look at what we can accomplish ourselves.

A workaround was developed to tell browsers to override the privacy feature. All pages on a https website should include this meta tag to enable the referrer explicitly – so Google can capture it for analytics.

  • 2) <meta name=”referrer” content=”origin”>

Note that a newer tag has been introduced in HTML5 but fewer browsers support this tag. You may want to experiment for best results.

  • <meta name=”referrer” content=”always” />

Read more at W3C about Referrer Policy.

What if you have an https website, and the referrer is https. That should work, but it does not? Help!

  • 3) That means your website/host/vendor needs to FORCE https encryption (this is on the inbound website). Some hosts will accept both http & https requests and therein lies a problem for you. ( If you can’t get the referrer to edit the page and change the link to your websites to https, then that http link will be answered by the unencypted http protocol and then Google won’t report those visitors)  The solution to this problem is to FORCE HTTPS for all incoming traffic. That is how a proper webmaster would do it.

In the case you have the ability to edit both the outbound links and control the inbound website. Then do all of the above.

Want to know more about Google Analytics traffic sources ( Direct / None)?

Posted on

Can I Use One Google Search Console for Multiple Domains?

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing You can Google all-day-long and you will not find a definitive answer to this question.

Why is that?

For clarity, here is the closest thing you’ll find on the topic

We are not talking about Subdomains!

We are talking about Domains aren’t we? Exactly! I have been “doing this stuff” since Google was birthed (or became better than Altavista) @ 2001. I have seen all the evolution of methods to do-these-things with Google. These “things” I’ll call “methods”. They are simply ways to communicate with Google so they can do what they want to do; bigger, faster, better. These methods are called SEO (or “White-Hat SEO” that is).

So there are millions of people (you) doing their own SEO. You read Google support pages like most people read the newspaper. You participate on forums, ask questions, write about your opinions and experiences. All that gets indexed by Google.

Then how can a question like this remain ambiguous?

Exactly! Now here is where the developer says, “I don’t understand?”. The marketing person says, “But of course! That’s marketing”. The business person says, “Of course! That’s the nature of proprietary information.”.

I’m going to answer this question based on experience alone.

  • Question: Can I use one Google Search Console for multiple domains?
  • Answer: Its probably not a good idea.
  • Question: That’s no answer. OK! Why should I NOT use one Google Search Console for multiple domains?
  • Answer: Because Google likes Accounts linked to websites. ( And so do you because it provides more accurate telemetry in your analytics reporting ).

An ACCOUNT is a gmail login. A website is a PROPERTY of the ACCOUNT.

  • Question: I don’t get what that has to do with setting up multiple Domains in Google Search Console?
  • Answer: Because Google links Services (like Analytics) with Search Console, with Adwords, with GMB (Google My Business – God awful name that it is), and Adsense, etc.

Given all that linking between SERVICES, why do you think its a good idea to add to the complexity by adding multiple domains (Properties) to one Search Console (Account)?

  • You are not supposed to ask US questions! You are just blowing smoke with this “Services linked to Properties, linked to Accounts”. What’s next in your complexity lesson? Worm-holes?

I have found only by relative search rank performance – there is no absolute benchmark I can offer – that keeping 1 Google Account (gmail) dedicated to 1 Domain (website), yields much better search rank performance ( also mistakenly called SEO. re “My SEO is now much better because I...” Sounds like a health problem to me ).

  • Question: What else? Is that all that is floating around in your pea-sized brain?
  • Answer: No. Keeping 1 Google Account (gmail) dedicated to 1 Domain (website) also cuts down on management headaches, because Google gives you all the methods you need to setup your many Account/Domains in an easy-to-manage MCC, ( …wait for it…) proving that Google is very aware of the difficulties in adhering to all these ever-changing “methods” they create for you, whether you can find it documented online or not.
  • Question: Will this post get indexed?
  • Answer: Yes.
  • Question: Will I be able to find it in search results?
  • Answer: Probably not.

Posted on

Who is Really Winning the Maps Game

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Google Maps market share is amazing considering they have failed in Europe. Yeh! Thats a strong statement. I say that because almost everyone uses Google Maps as a default, until…it gets you lost.

What I do for a living (local search optimization) is very connected to mapping applications. What I’m saying is already known to anyone who tries to use Google Maps while traveling “outside of tourist areas” in Europe. That qualifier is very important because most visitors to Europe may never see what I’m illustrating here. Tourists will use Google Maps in their whirl-wind tour and blissfully return home unaware that they live in a Google Bubble.

Google Maps might work in heavily trafficked areas all over the world because tourists tend to do a lot of sharing, which Google then uses to maintain its services. However, try using Google Maps in the countryside – ne, the suburbs – ne, just off the beaten path – by maybe a block.

Don’t take my word for it. There are other Americans who notice this as well., which mention, a very good alternative maps solution.

I and all acquaintances-friends-strangers use a variety of other map alternatives in Europe. Copilot seems to be tops for serious navigators – especially where driving and avoiding major traffic jams on the Autobahn(s) is concerned. OpenStreetMap is very strong. I’m biased to open source anyway, and most European are as well (I get the feeling its about privacy, don’t you?). So the usefulness of OpenStreetMap in Europe is solid and has legs. And there are many apps spawned from OpenStreetMap, such as Locus promising even better things to come. As an example, the level of detail in Locus is great for outdoors use. Google is not even a contender.

Google has failed to win heart and minds in Europe ( Gee! can’t understand how that happened? Could it be the eavesdropping? ) I have seen a number of clues that indicate Europeans are editing Google Maps to include erroneous information or removing details altogether. I have no examples to offer because who can do that in the shifting sands of the Internet (and Google), but try it yourself. Let me know.

I can’t speak for other parts of the world either. One has to live for some time in an area to know things like this.

Sadly, my business revolves around search engines such as Google and I would rather not see things deteriorate this way for any search engine, but nothing is so consistent as change.

Posted on

Remarketing Pay Per Click Explained in Plain Terms

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Remarketing: should you do it?

Remarketing is a term you’ll hear most often from those selling PPC services. They usually recommend allocating some of your budget, in addition to what you are already spending on Pay-Per-Click ads, just to Remarketing ads. ( read between the lines, and it means “let’s spend more” )

Well first, what is Remarketing?

Here is a screenshot of a real-life situation as it actually happened to me (click to enlarge).


I wanted to read-up on Ebola because it came up in a conversation and I had no real knowledge about it. I had only heard bits and pieces in the “news” (which explains why I knew nothing substantial about it) and therefore could add nothing to the conversation. I later Googled “ebola”, and clicked on md-health website. Suddenly I notice this ad from a bike shop on the right. What the heck does a bike shop have to do with ebola? That’s Remarketing.

Bookmark this concept ==> the ad is not relevant to what I’m doing right now! It’s an interruption – similar to ads on TV – which means this ad has low conversion potential to start with.

Lets take a look at how this works

I had recently been searching online for a particular bike part that I could not find locally. I had visited that very bike shop website; one of many bike shop websites. That website placed a cookie on my computer (in the browser). It happens that Md-health places Google ads on their website to make money on visitors like me (you can do the same with Google Ad-Sense).

When I visited Md-health, Google recognized the bike shop cookie in my browser, put 2+2 together, Google served up the ad. That’s Remarketing, cool! Some think its creepy, ( like the fact that Google has now tagged me as a potential ebola case or a hypochondriac ! )

So think of Remarketing as advertising that “follows you around” online, kind of a “reminder” ad.

So now that you know how this works, and you will begin to recognize the ads you see on other website as Remarketing, you can judge if it has an influence on your behavior. I have found that Remarketing ads have never caused me to act (click). If I search for something to purchase online, I usually buy it, or look up the address where I’m going to physically buy it – done – I’m now offline – and no longer a potential customer for the Remarketing approach.

But should you do Remarketing?

You can answer that question precisely only if you have a strictly online business.

Unfortunately, if you are like most local businesses, you have walk-in customers, or take telephone calls to complete sales. In that case you cannot measure if those Remarketing ads are leading to sales. Yes you can spend more money on clicks ( just as you normally do with your Google Adwords campaign) but you still can’t see if the any of your ads turn into sales. So don’t let your PPC advisor tell you Remarketing is proven to increase sales. That has never been proven for local businesses.

Bottom line ==> You can probably prove that more ad spending will lead to more sales. Now that is Rocket Science at work!

Products with long purchase cycles ==> such as automobiles, can benefit by repeatedly exposing your business name to customers who have already visited your website while shopping online. In this case you are building brand awareness, often without paying for clicks.

Chances are the brand(s) you sell are already engaged in Remarketing at a global or national level. Its what they do, and they can do brand advertising more effectively than a local business.

Remarketing may be best for Brand awareness ==> a local business’s brand is really it’s name ==> Remarketing ads using your business name may make sense – but Remarketing product oriented ads may not be so effective.

So how do you go about it?

I have found that most ( actually all – as in 100% ) Remarketing ads I have sampled out of professional interest are implemented poorly. The bike shop ad in this example, linked to a completely different product page than anything I was interested in. So while I clicked because the keyword “XTR” was visible ( part of my search term ), I was disappointed to NOT FIND something even remotely relevant on the landing page – so I’m out-a-there. The bike shop just wasted money because they setup their keyword attributes very broadly and did not have appropriate landing pages.

==>  Poor landing pages and appropriate keyword attribute settings are common weaknesses for most ordinary Pay-Per-Click advertising campaigns everywhere. If you’re not doing the basics well, reaching harder and farther with Remarketing is like trying to run before you can walk.

My bottom line

  1. If you have absolutely mastered your PPC advertising, then Remarketing is a worthwhile experiment. But its not for the pay-per-click beginner, and its not for products with impulse buys or short purchase cycles ( like bike parts ).
  2. Having good (specials) product pages, and getting more 5 star reviews will increase conversion and sales for a lot less spend than Remarketing. That advice may seem unrelated to the topic, but conversion into sales is going to happen because the customer chose your physical store front over the many others they visited online because they liked what they saw the first time, not because they saw the same ad over and over again.

Posted on

What is a Blog Post Worth

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Does Blogging Pay?  Its the most common directive issued in SEO. Blog! If you want free traffic, Blog! If you don’t have a big budget to pay Google Adwords or Bing Adcenter for clicks, BLOG!

But does blogging really payoff? Here is your real-world-local-business answer. Not only can we see exactly how many clicks a blog post is bringing every month, month after month; we can calculate the exact value of those clicks, and therefore calculate the exact value of the blog-post. (which means how much could you pay someone to blog for your business) Here is our Query Report from Google Webmaster or Google Analytics.


A single Blog-post about how swimming pools can pop out of the ground, brought our business 31 clicks from natural searches last month.


Therefore if our blog-post brought 31 visitors and we are paying a nice round figure of $3.30 per visitors in our PPC campaigns, the blog is worth $102.30 per month or $1,227.60 per year. With this data, we can now make many more assumptions about our marketing spend.

Brilliant! Hold on! What you may have missed is that there are 4 blog-posts on this website, but this is the only one that is performing to bring us a measurable number of free visitors. That is a variable that needs to be included in our overall marketing calculations to determine what a blog-post is really worth (paying for).

Plus there are a few noteworthy bullets to go with our numbers that can serve to flesh-out your Internet Marketing assumptions:

  1. The blog-post title, when written, did not reflect what those online searches would be that produces our traffic. This blog-post could potentially perform much better with the right title. That’s water under the bridge, but now that we know, we can still do some SEO to increase our page position and thereby, increase our clicks.
  2. The CTR for this post is exceptional. Combined with Average Positions (that are at the bottom of page 1) and that tells us the other results on the SERP (search results page) are not as appealing, and may also mean our meta description (SEO) is working well.

Another critical marketing variable not provided here is CONVERSION (into leads, into sales) but that’s something for another post. With conversion figures you can really dial-in your ROI – the ultimate in Internet Marketing Planning.

Alrighty then:

  • Q: What should I blog about?
    • A: What questions do your customers ask you?
  • Q: Should you hire someone to write blogs?
    • A: Can you produce the material for them and can they optimize the content?

I know those are not an answers, but they should point you in the right direction to the answer you need. Only you know your business well enough to make all this work. Everyone else can only help.

Well, without question, blogging works to bring (relatively) free traffic and save you the cost of paying Google and Bing for visitors. There is technique (SEO) involved in making it work to its full potential, but my experience is that everyone has moments of inspiration and motivation, but few can actually execute – consistently. Perseverance and persistence (lack thereof), not $, is what inhibits most Internet Marketing from real success.

But at least now you cannot say you don’t know whether blogging is worthwhile for your business.

Posted on