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.
In an article on SearchEngineLand.com yesterday, Matt McGee stated that the current conventional wisdom on Google+ and online marketing is as follows: Even if your audience isn’t active there, it’s almost mandatory to have a profile and be active there because of the way Google is showing more Google+ content in its regular search results.
Since Google launched Search Plus Your World(SPYW), much has been written about the impact of SPYW on Search Engine Optimization. I covered some of the reactions and my opinions on SPYW in previous blog posts: How SPYW Will Impact SEO on January 13th, SPYW Reactions on January 17th, SPYW Reaction Continues on January 24th, and SPYW Forces Google+ to be Taken Seriously on Feb 8th.
The SearchEngineLand article summarizes the findings in two reports that attempt to put the change SPYW will have on SEO into some perspective. If you have an online presence and you are concerned about better search engine rankings, you need to stay abreast of changes in Google that impact search engine ranking page (SERP). You also need to be aware of potential opportunities created by the increased emphasis on a Google+ presence in strengthening your online presence.
The first article was by Ian Lurie on his Conversation Marketing blog. It was titled ‘Google Plus Box Ranking Factors Report’. He basically did two things. He surveyed 29 prominent SEO’s with 4 basic questions about Google+’s business future. The questions were:
- Will Google+ hit 400 million users in 2012? – 16 said yes.
- If so, will that spell trouble for Facebook? – 8 said yes.
- Do you see any difference in audience participation on Google+ versus Facebook? – All 29 said yes, Google+ has fewer but deeper interactions.
- Are you advising clients to jump on Google+? – 22 gave a qualified yes, most qualified it with they would wait and see if Google+ can gain some real traction.
The second thing he did was a detailed analysis of how Google+ factors can impact your Google+ box placement.
The second article cited was by AJ Kohn on Blindfiveyearold.com and was titled the Ultimate Google+ SEO Guide. It is a very detailed guide into what things on Google+ can impact how you show up in Google Search+ results. One thing he points out is that there are many ways that could potentially be ripe for spamming your way into top search results via Google+. This article is an excellent practical guide to all of the things you need to know if you are going to jump in and use Google+ for all of the SEO juice you can get.
SPYW, for better or worse, is impacting the world of SEO. If you have an online presence, whether or not you need a Google+ strategy is a big decision. It is still early on since the changes of SPYW have begun to impact SEO. These two guides are an excellent starting point for immersing yourself in all of the changes, opportunities that it presents, pitfalls to avoid, and how Google+ can be used in strengthening you Online Presence.
I first wrote of the Volunia search engine in this blog post in early December of last year. At that time I had applied to be a ‘power user’ or early adopter, when the search engine released in beta. They began slowly rolling out logins last week, and I received one. As an Indianapolis SEO I like to stay abreast of trends in search, so I gave it a try.
Volunia does offer three interesting features. The first feature is an overview sitemap of each website. This is probably the most distinctive feature. It creates a bird’s eye view that looks like something out of Farmville. Interesting, but I don’t really see the usefulness on this one. The second feature is a multimedia search within a site. This one seems a little more useful and interesting. The third, the social layer, seems to be the real distinguishing feature. When you go to a website via a search in Volunia, besides just displaying the web page it displays associated comments from Volunia users in s a panel on the right. This is adding a social component to web browsing, but from a whole different angle than what Google is trying to do with Search Plus Your World. It is adding social media to the search experience as a layer on top of web pages. It is trying to socialize the web browsing experience, using the search engine as the social media.
How this differs from Google’s approach to socializing search is the really interesting thing here. It also raised a question in my mind about Google’s motivation for pushing Search Plus Your World when they did. The creator of Volunia, Massiomo Marchiori, was once, by their own admission, a mentoring influence on Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Did his work in socializing search and the impending release of Volunia drive Google’s plan to introduce socialized search? They have radically different approaches, but both are conceptually trying to add a social component to the search experience. Google’s approach is to use Google+ as a signal in returning web pages. Volunia adds a layer for a dialog between users about the web page.
RockMelt Social Media Web Browser
Volunia’s approach is more similar to another browser now in public Beta called Rock Melt. RockMelt is a ‘social media web browser’ that you log into through Facebook or Twitter account. It has a similar interface to Volunia in that it adds asocial media layer where discussions about web pages can happen. RockMelt is funded by Netscape founder Marc Andreesen.
The release of Volunia, beta testing of RockMelt, and Google’s attempts to make Google+ tightly integrated with search have finally made me see the light. Integrating social media into the search experience seems like a natural next step. When you search for something, sometimes it would be nice to know if anyone you had friended on social media had anything to say about the web sites the search engine returns. It’s the implementation that could really make or break it though. Google’s heavy handed approach to force Google+ on us, and then use Google+as a signal in manipulating the search results seems to be a little much. Volunia has a nice approach, in that comments from Volunia users are layered over the web page on the right. The problem now is that those comments are not really friends comments, but the comments of all Volunia Users. Rock Melt’s integration with Facebook and Twitter friends gives you a glimpse of what Google could do to socialize search if they integrated with Facebook and Twitter. It also shows how socializing search should mean adding a transparent social element to searching. Google is instead is stubbornly trying to use Social Search to prop up their weak social media offering, Google+.
If you have an online presence, you need to be concerned about better search engine rankings, and all of the current trends in search. Social search, in one incarnation or another is here to stay. How It shakes out, I believe, is yet to be determined. Volunia and RockMelt are probably not Google killers. Google could however take a lesson in truly socializing search from them. Socialized search should first and foremost enhance the searchers experience. A secondary goal should be better ability to target the searcher for advertising revenue generation. Google currently may have those priorities backward.
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.
Facebook’s S-1 filing to IPO gives a little insight into their business model, plans for growth, and the quandary that both Facebook and Google face.
The business model has, on the surface, seemed fairly simple. As discussed in this FastCompany article ‘What is Facebooks Business?’, the main strategy is to create a place where people want to hangout, upload content, update their status, and exchange messages. Targeted ads placed next to that content accounted for $3.2 billion of the $3.7 billion that Google generated last year. Third party apps (mostly Zynga) brought in the other $500 million.
The plans for growth are really limited to three options. To approach the $100 Billion valuation of the IPO they will have to bring in more people, serve more ads, or raise the price of those ads. In all likelihood they will attempt to do all three of those things. With 845 million users and China off limits, increasing the number of users is not a sustainable long term strategy, since there are only 7 billion people on the planet. So they will need to focus on improving the service to increase the time users spend on Facebook, so that they are able to push more ads, while at the same time collecting as much information from you to better target the ads, thus creating a better conversion rate, and the ability to charge more for those ads. Luring users in with features they enjoy, while at the same time enticing them to give up more personal information is really the strategy they must employ. The recent Timeline feature is a perfect example of this strategy. A tool that essentially attempts to extract as much information from you about your life history is packaged as a ‘feature’ that allows you to tell your life story. Will users buy this? And for how long?
The quandary that both Facebook and Google face is a delicate balancing act between keeping users and advertisers happy. They both seem to be in a race to extract as much information from their users, so that the profiles they can build for their advertisers assure better targeting, and ultimately better conversion rates for the advertising. The real trick is to keep both groups happy simultaneously.
What does this mean for the small business owner who has an online presence to worry about? The advice for any of my Indianapolis SEO and Online Presence Management clients would be that there are amazing opportunities for search engine internet marketing. Google Adwords allows you to purchase ad placement in front of people who are already looking for you. Although not as effective as organic SEO for conversion, it is the quickest route in the short term to Google front page placement for your business. For long term success, organic SEO can achieve first page rankings that will have higher conversion rates than Pay-Per-Click. In the even longer term, it is important to keep abreast of trends such as the current privacy issues that users seem to be having more frequently. As Google and Facebook both continue the delicate balancing act between keeping users and advertisers happy, you need to know whose stock is rising and falling with users, and manage your online presence accordingly.
In a blog post early this morning on the official Microsoft blog, Frank Shaw, Vice-President of Corporate Communications for Microsoft appealed to frustrated and/or concerned users of Google, and suggested that Microsoft has some great, award-winning options. He stated that Google’s changes “make it harder, not easier, for people to stay in control of their own information.” He continued my saying that Microsoft would “work to keep you safe and secure online, to give you control over your data”. This seems to be Microsoft finally positioning themselves as the anti-Google, instead of the other Google.
As an alternative to Google, he touted Microsoft’s competing products, Hotmail, Bing, Office 365, and Internet Explorer. He made a very good point that Hotmail and Office 365 would not scan your documents to better target you for advertisers. He emphasized that Internet Explorer offers tracking protection, giving you more control over your privacy when browsing the web.
This could signal an interesting turn of events if Microsoft can get traction (and search market share) by positioning themselves as more privacy concerned alternative to Google. Anyone with an online presence or concerns about better search engine rankings needs to stay abreast of search engine market share, which currently stands at 65% for Google, and about 17.5% each for both Bing and Yahoo. In the past Bing seemed satisfied with being Google’s annoying little brother who aspired to really be exactly like Google, if they could. Now that they’ve recognized these privacy issues as a possible opportunity, will they seize the opportunity? Will they become the champions of privacy to position themselves apart from Google? If they do, will they lose advertising spend by not offering as sophisticated targeting? It seems now that they may be risking that in the short term in exchange for market share in the long term. Will that gamble pay off? A stronger competitor for Google would probably be a good thing, for both users and advertisers.
I have to admit I was surprised to see Microsoft able to be so responsive to this possible opportunity for Bing to gain some traction in search market share. Their new message “Putting People First” and the actual ad they will be running can be seen in the blog post. Which medium did they choose to make their appeal to disenchanted Google users? A series of ads in major newspapers! REALLY? What, they couldn’t find a PR firm who handles sky writing or smoke signals? You’re going all old school to reach people disenchanted with Google’s privacy issues? Maybe there is a reason Bing is, and probably always will be an also ran.
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.