By Samuel Scott
After Google unveiled first its +1 social-sharing button and then its Google+ social network last year, my colleague Daniel Goldstein predicted that the changes will eventually influence organic-search results. Google, he argued, will increasingly personalize search results based on what an individual searcher has “+1ed” in the past.
Well, that time has arrived. And if your company does not adapt, you will miss out on a tremendous amount of valuable traffic to your website.
On January 10, Google announced its “Search, plus Your World” revamp of its search-result pages:
Google Search has always been about finding the best results for you. Sometimes that means results from the public web, but sometimes it means your personal content or things shared with you by people you care about. These wonderful people and this rich personal content is currently missing from your search experience…
We’re transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships.
In practical terms, here is what the change means. As an experiment, I searched for “seo” (search-engine optimization) while I was logged into my personal Google account. This is what I saw:
(You may need to click on the image to make it larger and easier to read.) As is probably obvious, the Google+ results were the other Internet marketers whose writings I follow. In the sector in which you work, you will likely see results tailored to your industry.
If you have worked in Internet marketing for a decent length of time, you probably know the importance of what is “above the fold.” (The term comes from print journalism and the idea that the most-important story should be at the top of the page.) In Internet marketing, “above the fold” is place on a website where you want your calls to action, advertisements, and other related items since many people lose interest and never bother to scroll down to the bottom of a web page. Most of the clicks on a search-results page (and on any website) will be on those items that are “above the fold.”
So, when I did a test search for “seo,” what did I see? The top of the page now contains:
- Google pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements
- Personalized results from my past activity on Google+
- Google+ people and pages that Google thinks I might like based on my past activity
And only then, after my eyes had already scrolled past these three items, do the organic results appear. The point should be obvious, but I’ll address it further below.
Years ago, search marketing – at least in organic search and not PPC advertising – consisted of slapping relevant keywords on each page of a website to get the site to rank in Google for those search terms. After black-hat SEO artists began “keyword spamming” pages, Google switched its algorithm to favor backlinks and quality content as the measures of a website’s authority. The more backlinks and original content, the better the website – or so the theory went.
However, these same unscrupulous marketers began spamming forums and blogs, creating article-spinning software, and using sophisticated (though devious) tools to insert links into unsecure websites. So Google needed to develop another way to measure the quality of a website – and that is what likely led the search-engine giant to incorporate social-media signals like Google+ into its results. After all, a “like,” “retweet,” or “+1” from a real person on social-media networks is largely impossible to fake or manipulate.
From the perspective of providing relevant search-results, this change makes perfect sense. However, from a business perspective, there are allegations (from Twitter and others) that Google is violating anti-trust measures by favoring its own social-media network and other internal services in search results (that should, perhaps, be objective). Since I am not a lawyer myself, I will leave this particular issue for the experts to decide. Still, the value for inbound marketers is obvious.
The basic idea in search marketing is to “get found in Google.” Until now, the primary method had been to create and optimize a website while producing quality content and obtaining enough backlinks to “get to the Top 10” in search results. However, even the number-one website in organic search-results will still be below the PPC ads – and now below the personalized Google+ recommendations as well.
If your search-marketing strategy has been only to optimize your website or only to get more backlinks, you are missing out on the bigger picture. As Google becomes more personalized and complex, a quality search-engine marketing (SEM) strategy will need to integrate many or all of the following:
- Search-engine optimization (SEO) – creating a search-engine friendly website
- Quality content to engage both readers and search engines
- Linkbuilding to increase the “authoritativeness” of your website
- Social-media sharing both to increase traffic and to rise in search-engine rankings (especially now with Google+)
- PPC advertising to get to the “top of Google” for as cheaply as possible
If your business has identified Internet marketing as a method to achieve your marketing and business goals, it is crucial to keep abreast of the latest changes. Google’s recent revamp of its search results is just the latest example of why it is important to integrate all of the relevant aspects into a holistic, coherent strategy.
Samuel Scott is Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader for The Cline Group. You see more of his thoughts on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Slideshare, and Quora. His personal website is here.