A Dilbert cartoon strip on Friday painted SEO’s in a rather unflattering light. A lot has been written by overly defensive SEOs in reaction to the comic strip, which is shown below:
This brings up some good questions about Search Engine Optimization. SEOs sometimes have a reputation as people who game the system for fast results. In the past, gaming the system was easier than it is now. Gaming the system in the past could sometimes bring better search engine rankings quickly. People who gamed the system could get away with it, and be profitable. Search engines are evolving. If you have an online presence, you have probably been approached by companies or individuals who promise you “guaranteed front page rankings on Google”. Be wary of anybody who makes this guarantee. That guarantee is one of the easiest ways to discern the type of SEO that this comic strip is referring to. SEO’s that were one time masters of gaming the system make promises like this.
Optimizing your search engine results and managing your online presence is an ongoing process. It takes weeks or sometimes months to achieve valid and lasting search engine results for the key phrases that are important for your business. Managing your online presence is about much more that Search Engine Optimization. Online Presence Management means doing all of the things the right way so that your web site will be found by potential customers looking for you.
Having a strong online presence can be one of the best and most cost effective ways of generating more business from your website. Don’t be tempted by those who offer quick results. A lasting, well executed online presence can become your best marketing tool. A quick jump in search engine rankings will typically fade just as quickly if it is not part of a well planned, continuously maintained online presence management strategy. Maintaining an ongoing strategy for a strong online presence may cost a little more, but the return on investment will be well worth it in the long run. As with so many things in life, you get what you pay for. Beware of the “Pantless Weasel” offering the $500 guaranteed search engine optimization package. Your online presence deserves better.
Now that the dust seems to be settling a little bit since the Google Search Plus Your World (SPYW) change, one question remains. If you have an online presence, do you need to have a Google+ presence to achieve better search engine rankings? Has Google successfully leveraged its search engine to strengthen its social media product (Google+)? For many people with limited resources, it is probably too soon to be reallocating resources from something else to strengthen your social media presence.
A good social media strategy is sometimes a part of an overall online presence management strategy, but not cost effective for every type of business. A good online presence manager can advise you if social media is a cost effective way to strengthen your online presence, but Google has apparently changed the playing field. In the past the effectiveness from social media was from the social media exposure itself. Now, on Google+ at least, a strong social media presence could conceivably improve search engine rankings.
At least one online retailer who depends on search engine traffic thinks the change now requires them to become more involved with Google+. This article on businessinsider.com details the strategy of the Gilt Groupe (gilt.com). The online retailer relies heavily on search engine traffic to its website.
Jason John, Senior Director of Online Marketing at the Gilt Groupe was quoted as saying “Search is extremely important to us” and “Google will have its way and we will have to focus on Google+. We launched our presence on Google+ yesterday.”
That probably sums of the general consensus of SEO consultants everywhere. Google will have its way. If you want to improve search engine rankings, Google+ has become a part of the SEO mix, whether we like it or not. As SEO experts rush to take advantage of search engine rankings bumps that can be achieved by a strong Google+ presence, don’t get too caught up in the hype. When planning a social media strategy as part of your online presence management strategy, just know the game has changed. If you do anything in social media, Google+ has made itself the place to start.
In light of all of the negative publicity surrounding Google Search Plus Your World, I was wondering if this reaction was just within the search engine internet marketing community, or if there has been reaction in the mainstream search user world. An interesting study by AYTM Market Research shed some light on this question. The following graphic appeared in this article in eMarketer.com:
As the chart shows, only 15.5% of users liked personalized search results. 39.1%, said yes but qualified the yes with but I do have some concerns about privacy. 45.4% said they thought everyone should see the same results when searching the same keyword.
Another complaint about Google’s Search Plus Your World was the use of Google+ as the only social media signal used in customizing the results. Another survey on Google+ Usage by internet users in general also shed some interesting light on the coverage of Google+.
19.5% of Internet users do not know what Google+ is. 19.3% have an account. 20.3% have an account but don’t use it, and 40.9% do not have a Google+ account. No matter how hard Google tries to push Google+, it does not seem to be getting any real traction as a social media platform.
These two surveys point out two facts that Google may have underestimated when they went forward with their Search Plus Your World Change. First, a lot of people don’t think search should be customized for each person. If you add in people that could possibly see the benefit, but they have privacy concerns about customized personal search, you are looking at 85% of people either don’t want it or have privacy concerns with it. Second, Google+ is not being accepted by mainstream users. More people in this survey had never even heard of Google+ (19.5%) than those that said they had a Google+ account and used it (19.3%).
If you have an online presence, and you have concerns about the future of search, what should you do? One of two things will happen. Google will continue to push Search Plus Your World, leveraging their search dominance to increase usage of Google+. If this happens, adding a Google+ Presence to your Online Presence Management Strategy will become vital. The other possibility, given the numbers in this study, would be a rollback of the Search Plus Your World feature. If you are managing an online presence, you might want to wait to commit resources to a strong Google+ presence in the short term.
An article in USAToday this morning stated “Google and Facebook might have finally gotten the average consumer riled up about privacy”. Google and Facebook both made big announcements yesterday concerning user data and how it will be collected, used, and displayed. I wrote a blog post yesterday about Google’s announced changes. Basically, Google will begin sharing all of the data that it collects across search, Google+, Gmail, Youtube, and it’s other properties. They changed their privacy policies by rolling some 60+ privacy policies into just one.
Facebook announced yesterday that within the next few weeks their new timeline feature will become the profile for all users, and no longer an option. The timeline feature makes it easier for Facebook to profile users. As people adjust to the change, they may feel like data that was private before has been pushed to the timeline. They will have to adjust to new privacy settings under the new feature, and I expect the outcry against it from the general public will be louder than the last feature change that changed the newsfeed.
Both Google and Facebook have seemingly thumbed their noses at any question of privacy violations. They both seem to have the attitude they can do whatever they want with data that they collect from the users of their services. There are huge stakes here, as they battle to provide more detailed user profiles, which allow them to offer better targeted marketing. The global online advertising market is expected to grow from $80 billion this year to $132 billion in 2015, according to eMarketer.
So who or what can stop them? Both companies have had their problems with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and there have been calls for further inquiries into both. Both companies have increased their lobbying budgets, Google from $5.2 million in 2010 to $9.7 million in 2011, and Facebook from $351,000 in 2010 to $1.4 million in 2011. Don’t expect more than a slap on the wrist from the FTC. The only thing that could stand in their way would be users turning away from their services because they just get too fed up with privacy violations.
The USA Today article went on to say that the changes announced on Tuesday seems to have struck a chord with users. Have Google and Facebook finally hit a tipping point in their race to profile users at the cost of privacy? Will users begin to walk away from either of the two services out of frustration with privacy violations?
If you are an online presence manager who uses search engine internet marketing, changes allowing improved targeting and retargeting of customers across all platforms could be in the very near future. As long as Google and Facebook manage the reaction to privacy changes so that there is no significant pushback from users, some of the best targeted pay-per-click advertising opportunities ever could soon become a reality.
Google announced on Tuesday that it would begin tracking more user data across all of its services, including search, Gmail, YouTube, and others. This story did not just break in the technical search blogosphere, but was a major story in USA Today. Previously, a user habits were only used to target ads within the particular product. When this announced change goes into effect March 1st, activities will be tracked across all of Google’s products to target ads across all of Google’s products. USA today points out that this change reflects Google’s desire to get as large of a share as it can of the US online advertising market, which was $32 billion in 2011.
Google has been faced with a growing challenge from Facebook for online advertising. It is beginning to seem as though there is no limit to the depths to which Google or Facebook are willing to sink in terms of privacy violation to provide better targeted marketing. Better targeted marketing translates to bigger online advertising market share. Facebook is pushing forward with their timeline “feature”. This businessinsider.com article reported that users will be forced to use the timeline feature, whether they like it or not.
This article in Gizmodo.com called Google out and flat out declared that Google has violated its “Don’t be evil” policy. Google’s original policy stated “Focus on the user and all else will follow”. No matter how Google may try to spin some of their recent changes as being all about the user experience, the truth is they are not. Recent changes to incorporate Google+ into search were clearly a move to strengthen their social media offering. They can spin it all they want and say they were improving the relevance of the search results. Anyone looking at that change objectively would see that if they were serious about improving search relevance with social media they would be attempting to include all social media. Now this change to a model that allows sharing of private data across all platforms is very obviously a play to monetize the users data and strengthen their market share in online advertising.
The timing of the announcement? That was a little suspect as well. As this businessinsider.com article points out, they announced the change on the heels of Apple’s earnings announcement. The old method to bury a bad news story was to drop a press release late on Friday of a long weekend. With today’s 24/7 news cycle, apparently the new version of that old trick is to try and bury a story under what you hope is an even bigger news story of your competition.
What does this mean to the users of Google products? Will they grow tired of privacy invasions to the point that it will impact Google’s popularity? There are no signs of that happening yet. There is however a growing undercurrent of mistrust of Google that seems to be growing. Media coverage of some of Google’s latest moves that paint an unflattering picture of Google seem to be spreading from some of the techno-SEO blogs and media to the more mainstream, as in today’s USA Today article.
What does this mean to you if you are have an online presence and you are considering search engine internet marketing? You should eventually be able to do even more targeted marketing than was ever available. Things like retargeted marketing, where ads target users based on keyword searches, gmail content, and their YouTube viewing habits. This could create unprecedented ability to target Pay-Per-Click advertising to an amazing extent.
Reaction to Google’s Search Plus Your World Change has continued to light up the tech blogosphere, as well as a little mainstream media coverage. This article in techland.time.com reviewed the basics of SPYW, and then noted that EPIC had filed a request for a FTC investigation. He went on to say that the actions of Google were not going to lead to any anti-trust action. His reasoning is that Google is big, with it’s 65% market share, but not monopolistically big. Also, low barriers to entry into the market as a rival search engine should protect them. He continued that Google does, however have a problem with the new feature. That problem is a problem of market reaction. He notes that user dissatisfaction ahs been simmering under the surface for a long time. He points to a fed up Mat Honan of Gizmodo switching to Bing, and frustrated blog posters like John Gruber and Rick Webb, whose frustrating attempts to get gold prices lead him away from Google to WolframAlpha.com.
Tom Foremski predicted in Memeburn.com that SPYW would push legions of marketers to fill Google+ with spam, alienating potential users, and ultimately harming the relevance of search that was too integrated with Google+. He went on to cite Rand Fishkin’s article on SEOMoz.org entitled “Every Marketer Now Needs a Google Strategy” as proof that the marketing push onto Google+ in the wake of the SPYW change was already beginning.
Perhaps the cleverest reaction to the change is a new browser plug-in developed by Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace engineers. The “Don’t Be Evil” button, a not so subtle backhanded slap at Google’s corporate motto, will allow you to see results, the old way, without the inclusion of search plus your world results. You can read more about it in this Gizmodo article, where the author goes on to suggest a possible rollback of this feature if market reaction continues. You can also get the bookmark at focusontheuser.org, where the make the case that Google’s results would be more relevant if they included all social media.
Will Google eventually back down and roll back this feature? Will FTC pressure force them to roll back this feature or at least create a level playing field in search for all social media? I would tend to disagree with Jerry Brito’s article in techland.time.com that Google is not big enough to have some anti-trust problems with the FTC. If Google had remained just a search engine, and Facebook or Twitter was taking action to get better placement in Google, then that would not be a concern of the FTC. But Google is now using its dominance in search to give an advantage to its own social media platform Google+. That seems unfair, and it seems very similar to the trouble Microsoft got into with the FTC, when they attempted to leverage their dominance as an operating system into an unfair advantage for its software offerings. Look for the FTC to come down hard on Google for crossing that line, and if that happens a rollback of this feature would be more likely.
In the mean time, if you have an online presence and you are you are concerned with better search engine ranknings, you can’t ignore this change. As Rand Fishkin pointed out in the article cited previously, you need a Google strategy, and for now and the foreseeable future that strategy should have much emphasis placed on Google+. It may quickly become the fastest way to achieve significant search engine internet marketing results.
Google announced a change to its algorithm on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 involving page layout and the placement of ads. The purpose of the change, according to the Google Webmaster Central Blog, was to punish websites with excessive advertising “above the fold”. At first glance this probably seems like a good idea. Nobody likes to sift through search results for a somewhat relevant result, and then when you click over to that page you are assaulted by a barrage of ads that make it impossible to find the content you are really looking for. Google says that the change will only affect 1 in 100 searches. Matt Cutts, Googles SEO guru says that no one who uses “ads above the fold to a normal degree” will be affected. But if you think about it from the web designer’s perspective, how much is “a normal degree”?
When Google speaks, SEO consultants and search engine internet marketing professionals need to listen. The problem in answering the question of what is “a normal degree” is complicated by the mixed message and what some may even call hypocrisy on the part of Google. The image below shows some sample Google search results from my laptop. The red highlighted areas show ads, the green highlights show search results. You be the judge if that would constitute excessive advertisement above the fold.
So what exactly is Google’s definition of excessive advertising? Do they intend to penalize themselves? The hypocrisy has been noted in many blog posts that are critical of this latest change. Some examples are this post on webmonkey.com, and a little more strongly worded response in this blogstorm.co.uk.
Google has every right to change their algorithm. As they have so often pointed out when they have been questioned, competition is only a click away. It is noteworthy that there seems to be growing vitriol expressed every time Google makes an algorithm change. The changes seem to be coming with increasing frequency. Many of the changes lately, though not this one in particular, seem to be Google forcing a change that benefits Google in the name of making search results more relevant. This has led to a growing questioning of motives and actions of Google that speaks to the question of eroding trust in Google as the guardians of their own motto, “Do No Evil”. There was a time when Google was a trusted, seemingly neutral, trusted indexer of the web. There is a growing feeling that the important job of indexing the web is no longer being performed by a trusted, benevolent force. And that should be a problem that Google should worry about.
If you have a website, and you are concerned about better search engine rankings, Google is still, and will remain for the foreseeable future, the biggest game in town, so you have to play. If you want to be successful you have to play by their rules, regardless of any arguments about their fairness. This means now if you have advertising on your front page, keep it below the fold if possible.