Google has once again changed the way that businesses make themselves visible in search engines. For the last 10 years, Google has set the rules for visibility across all search engines. The reason for this is that Google users visit its website 66% percent of the time that they are looking for information in search engines. As a result, companies focus their efforts on being visible in Google assuming their efforts will have similar effects on other sites.
For most of the years that Google has made its search engine available to business websites, it was done so based on the ‘keywords’ that users would type in. In other words, when a user was looking for a plumber in Chicago, they would go to the search bar and type in "plumber Chicago".
Then Google would return what it said to be the most relevant results for that phrase. Companies that did a good job of making their websites appear relevant to Google's search engine robots (called its algorithm) would be visible as one of the first 10 listings on the first page of results that a user would see.
In the last five years, companies have been competing for those top 10 spaces on the first page in their local market or area of expertise. Most of the time they would employ consultants that understood how keywords work and how the algorithm interpreted them. These consultants would structure the website and have experts write out web page content on behalf of their clients.
They would also make the website look authoritative in the eyes of its algorithm also. They would do this by making sure that there were enough websites linking to it hinting also at the fact that they were relevant. In other words, companies and their consultants would make sure that there were enough votes from other website owners saying that this was relevant for a particular line or phrase of search.
However, over the last three years, Google has begun to dismantle this way of its algorithm determining which sites were most relevant. It was the belief of engineers at Google, that there were companies that were ‘gaming’ the system and exploiting its weaknesses. Therefore, they began to systematically eliminate the advantages of those that appeared to be involved in this activity.
This meant that companies that appeared on the first page of Google for their business term, in some cases slid back to the last page. Some companies disappeared altogether from Google's search results.
This was disastrous for some of those businesses.
Think about what would happen, if the main way that people found out about what you offered was suddenly turned off. Think of what that might do to the amount of foot traffic that ended at your door. Think of all those that would never consider you, otherwise.
This meant that companies needed to themselves visible in different ways. As the 2010s approached, these small businesses started to explore the use of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LInkedIn as a way to reach new customers. The logic was that if customers were on these sites, then they needed to be there to meet them. Of course, since that time, most businesses have made it their priority to have a presence on the social media sites also.
Social media provides a different kind of opportunity for businesses to make themselves visible on the web. Often, their customers and or prospects come in contact with them because someone shares information that they have made available. In other words, social media allowed companies that understood how it worked to make themselves available to individuals through the personal online networks of social media users.
This sharing process then hit the radar of Google. Their assumption was that if people were sharing content among each other, then it was likely to be relevant for its topic area. Therefore, in the mid-2011's, Google Incorporated this activity into its search engine results.
Marketing consultants called this social signals. It was a term that meant that the more people got involved with a company and its information on social media that this was a signal of its relevance.
Therefore, the more social activity that Google detected from companies and their products and services, the higher they began to write them on their result pages.
This factor was a little harder for individuals to "game" the system. When something began to be mildly popular or relevant, people talked about it on their social media accounts, they shared it with their friends and they voted it (liked) as being worthy of their time. This is still an important factor in search engine results as of this writing.
Fast-forward to 2013, where convenience for users has taken center stage on the web. Although Internet users are just as active as they have always been their desire is to do more on their terms with maximum convenience.
Instead of accessing websites through their home computer, users are visiting websites using their mobile device. (Smart phone, iPhone, tablet, etc.) And as their computing has grown more convenient, they are now desiring their search experience become the same thing. Google has taken note of this trend.
In 2012, they began to initiate searching on its site that could be completed by a user speaking its search. While PC users could do this on their laptop and desktop computers, voice search’s main benefits were directed toward mobile device users. Google's desire was for searchers to be able to ask the search engine a question and to get the answer that they wanted from the search engine results that were presented to them.
While this was an advance in technology and marketing, it wasn't quite a full experience for the person looking for information. The search results that the person received on their mobile device where the same as the ones that they would have received on their PC, if they had typed in their search years prior to that time. It was the same search formula: all of the information that a user received was based on keyword use, link authority and relevance.
It is for this reason that Google recently updated their search engine robot (algorithm). They wanted to make the search experience as convenient as all other computing was becoming, yet even more effective. The innovation that an individual could pick up their mobile device and ask the search engine a question was the starting point for their most recent change.
Marketing consultants and search engine experts are now using Google’s codename when referring to the change. Called “Hummingbird”, the change gives users more of the answers they seek, rather than the keyword based information they're looking for.
It's uncertain at this time, whether or not the algorithm is doing this accurately. However, their decision to move their business is likely to be final. There truly is no going back to the old way of looking for information based on keywords.
Local marketing consultants, have been ahead of this change. Many have been putting blueprints in place anticipating a major change like this. Having kept up with the clues that Google has been giving, marketing consultants had been noticing the changes that gradually came and incorporated them into the way they advised their clients.
In fact, the announcement didn't necessarily catch local marketing consultants off guard. While no one knew the nature of Google's change, marketers were already preparing to work in this new environment with new search algorithms.
If you're working with a local marketing consultant that understands these changes fundamentally, not only are you unlikely to see any loss in search results, but you may in fact see increases in activity. The reason for this is simple. Consultants have been advising their clients since 2011 to become more socially oriented online in their activities.
This means that companies should have already established their presence on the major social platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and Google Plus. These same companies should have gone even farther and begun to connect with customers, prospects and partners on these networks. If that is the case, they may have seen some favorable treatment in the search engines, as well as an increase in activity on their websites.
The Google Plus Social Network:
This is where the Google Plus Network established a new position in the marketplace even though the company was a late comer to social networking platforms. As Facebook and Twitter grew in popularity, Google chose not to launch its site in competition with them.
However, in 2010, Google began to integrate its social network into everything else the company did online:
Google Plus was integrated with its business directory site called Google Places.
It was also integrated with the company’s video sharing site, YouTube.com.
In fact, the company began to move all of its online activities into one. The intermediate step was that everything was first tied to their free e-mail service, Gmail.
However, as the Google plus network came into being, even eat Gmail was integrated into Google plus.
It may be difficult to keep up with all that has become part of Google Plus, but there is an important reason to take note of all of this activity. During 2012, marketing consultants began to notice that Google’s search engine results appeared to favor activities that were connected to its social network.
That meant that websites and blog posts that were connected to Google Plus, received favorable search engine treatment. The same was then true for YouTube videos. When created as they had been traditionally done, their authority began to rise along with a user’s connection Google Plus.
What this means for small business owners, is that the ‘new SEO’ should now include various elements of the Google Plus universe. While social signals are still an important part of the determining factors of relevance in a website, Google's own social network is being given weight along with the other platforms.
This means, a company should be active in making connections on Google Plus, creating videos on YouTube and utilizing images on Google's photo sharing site. While this should not take the place of a company’s social activity on other platforms, it is becoming a necessity for determining their relevance to become active on the Google Plus social network.
It appears that there is no slowing down to the use of Google as a search alternative as mobile devices grow in their use. Google's share of the search market still hovers at about 66%. This means that companies need to prepare to create their websites in the way that Google desires to present relevant results to search users.
Just as search results are no longer based solely on the use of keywords, so website content should no longer be done so either. Companies will need to begin to create articles and videos that answer the need, challenge and goals of prospects and customers.
Rich Snippets and Search Visibility:
In 2010, Google began to develop a system of communicating relevant results to its search engine algorithm. They called this new system, Rich snippets.
There is a danger of describing Rich snippets in so much technical detail that it will not be helpful. That being said, Rich snippets allow companies to present details to searchers that ordinarily would not have been found in typical search results.
Here's the relevance to a small business. Let's use a small local hardware store as an example. Furthermore, let’s say that one of the items that they carry in their inventory is a particular kind of hammer. So, the company wants those that are looking for this hammer in their local area to find that they its available at their location.
So with the help of a local marketing consultant and/or web designer, the hardware store uses Google's Rich snippets to communicate the fact that the hammer can be found at their store. The code is placed on their website and then searchers are able to find this kind of hammer at their location.
The hardware store (or any business) that can do this for a number of different kinds of popular products, may experience increased traffic from those looking for those specific items.
Putting the Author in Authority:
In line with its rich snippets, Google provided companies with the ability to communicate the fact that certain articles were attributable to them. This happens through its authorship system.
The authorship system makes it so that a business owner’s personal photo was visible in the search engines next to articles and entries from their blog or website.
When a business is exercising authorship with its content may not matter to be at the very top of the search engines. If your particular niche only has one business (yours) with an authorship system in place, you will stand out more than the other businesses.
The converse is true also. If all of the other businesses have authorship systems in place where their photo shows up next to their listing, yours will not look like a credible business without one. Therefore, in this ‘new SEO’ environment, authorship is soon going to become commonplace.
Business owners should be working with local consultants to make sure their photo shows next to relevant listings now.
This is especially true when you consider some of the emphasis that companies have placed on being found in the Google business directory called ‘Places’. Once Places emerged with Google Plus in 2012, it became possible to have rich snippets appear in those listings.
In other words, take a look at your Google Places local business directory listing. In fact, look at it in comparison to the other companies like yours when you do a search for your category.
Now, imagine what the same set of listings would look like, if your business photograph was next to your listing. Would your company stand out from the others? Is it likely, that you could stand out even if you were not the very first/top company listed. In the new era of SEO, authorship matters as much if not more in some cases than top placement.
Specifying Local details:
As Google places emerged as a trusted local business directory on the Internet, companies began to make sure their information was accurate on Google's site. The directory highlighted these details to local searchers. However, in some cases, those same details were not highlighted on their website.
This became an issue when individuals were looking for information that they would probably not find in the business directory. Or, in some cases the business directory would not appear for certain searches that an individual might do (even if they were relevant to a particular business). Once again, Rich snippets began to give companies more options and new life.
Companies could make sure that it was clear that there business was located in a certain geographical area. In addition to this, they could specify other details about their business, including the times they were open and whether or not they accepted cash, credit and or personal check.
Highlighting Individuals at a Company:
In spite of all of the available information that there is online about local companies, certain individuals will still search in ways that only make sense to them. This will not always follow the pattern that researchers find in search engine use.
There are times when the only thing that you (as a searcher) can remember about a particular company, is a staff person that works there. If a company does not put their names in the “About” section of the website, it's quite possible that the company could remain hidden to someone searching for information.
One of the ways around this is to use rich snippets to highlight certain individuals with in a company. In this case, you would highlight people that would probably not necessarily be written into your “About” page.
With rich snippets, you can highlight individuals as well as their capacity within the company. This can be especially useful when you have key decision-makers with extensive followings on social media.
As is the case with all rich snippets markup systems, the coding to make this effort can be very complicated. It requires testing to make sure that the information is coming across so that your effort in implementing will not be wasted.
Most local marketing consultants know and understand how to use the rich snippets that Google provides in order to highlight individuals in the company. Make sure you're working with someone knowledgeable so that you don't miss out on having this kind of leverage in the search engines. Since search is becoming less about keywords and more about answers you'll want to make sure that your site accomplishes this for users.
The new emphasis in search requires that companies and their consultants think in these terms and put systems in place so that these more convenient searches favor them instead of their competition. In most local areas, there are likely to be only 1 to 2 players willing to take this step to maximize their visibility. The companies that do can easily give themselves an advantage for a considerable length of time.
Rich Snippets and Coupons:
Currently, the search engines typically don't highlight or favor particular discount offers in the search results. In routine searches however, the rich snippets framework allows for companies to indicate that they have special offers and coupons with certain coding. It could make sense for a company to include this in their web presence. Being ready with this kind of information can be valuable to a company that has other authorship elements in place.
Making Searchers Aware of Testimonials.
Local businesses can use the rich snippets system to make customer testimonials a visible element of their website in the search engines. When you think about all of the other elements discussed thus far, they reflect on what the company says about themselves.
Being able to display the thoughts and opinions of other people in the form of testimonials can be a powerful element providing added visibility to companies willing to take the step.
It's important to reflect back on the fact that this would not happen as a result of a customer going to the search engines typing in the words “testimonial plumber Chicago”. In fact, that kind of search is likely never to happen. It's pretty rare when someone would actually go to the search engines, looking to find a plumber based on their testimonials.
Google provides this information for those simply looking for plumbers in a certain city. Depending on how the listing is constructed and whether or not rich snippets are able, a company can set themselves apart from the other plumbing companies by making sure that their testimonials are visible to searchers.
Once again, this is an opportunity that companies can avail themselves to in the new SEO environment. Placing information on your website solely based on the old system of people looking for things according to keywords will become less effective as time goes on.
Letting Customers Know About You:
Marketing your business today means often that you are going to be educating your customer. Of course, there are a number of ways for you do that. Traditionally, if you wanted to educate your customer, you would hold an event either at your location or at a meeting venue. The catch to holding it, is to make sure that it's find-able where those that would actually attend would be searching.
Of course, most business owners or consumers are unlikely to be looking for a particular event on their own in a search engine. However, if they are searching for information on a particular topic in your local area, you would want to ensure that your event was made known to them.
This is going to be of the utmost importance in the future because according to Google, events can include just about anything that requires a specific date designation. Therefore companies setting up webinars, Google Hangout's, speaking events, interviews and other kinds of dates can and should use this rich snippets event based system.
Once again it's instructive to think about the way that Google would like to treat the new kind of searcher. That searcher comes to the search engines with a question that they asked Google to give them an answer about.
Is it reasonable to assume that someone might search by asking Google if there are events on a certain subject during the current month?
The point to all of this is that you want to begin providing answers to searchers’ questions. The rich snippets data system is Google's official method for helping webmasters provide those answers to people that are searching. Of course, this kind of work is extensive because highlighting individual products, individuals, events and articles can be quite tedious.
However, the payoff is substantial, especially with mobile ready businesses fighting for the kind of attention that will bring customers to their doorstep. Every advantage that a company can gain they will need to employ in the future.
No one knows what the new environment will do to the landscape of companies wanting to be found. What is clear is that a company advertising message in the organic results will likely to be lost. That means that companies are going to have to re-think how they communicate with customers and prospects. Thinking more in terms of information/education as opposed to traditional copywriting, will likely give them an advantage in working with Google.
To reinforce their new emphasis, Google has limited the use of marketing tools originally designed for consultants to leverage keywords being searched. While many consultants saw this as a practical step in taking these tools off the market, there is something else at work.
It is desirable, according Google engineers for companies to come to the Internet in order to provide information and answers to those seeking them. Their position to companies has been this from the beginning; that good information that informs searchers would be rewarded. Individuals and companies looking to disingenuously ‘trick’ the search engines would eventually be displaced.
This will require that you look for ways to improve the lives of your customers through information. Not every business lends itself to educating consumers. There isn't always a perfect reason for companies to put on training seminars, workshops and video presentations.
While this information is being rewarded by Google as part of its new social networking platform, the company has given access to its hangouts technology. Google hangouts is a multifaceted collaboration and presentation tool.
A hangout allows up to 10 people to get together online with use of webcams, audio and document sharing. In addition to being able to raise the level of collaboration, individuals using Google Hangout can literally broadcast their meeting of 10 people to the entire world.
When the company’s hangout technology is combined with its video sharing site YouTube; this allows for a live broadcast of any presentation or collaboration on Google hangouts. That means that companies can provide educational resources right from their computer screen to the entire world using these tools.
Interestingly, individuals that commit to these collaborations have thus far found that the recordings created and automatically uploaded to YouTube are ranked highly on pages to their subject matter.
Does this mean that all a company has to do is to use hangout technology in order to create all of its web content? While the answer to that is of course no, there is something to be learned for marketers working with small business.
One of the ways to level the playing field between companies with substantial resources and those that have smaller budgets to work with is Google hangout technology, as it creates meaningful search results for customers and prospects. While there is a process in getting the video recordings to appear in search results, companies that do them on a regular basis, are finding significant results as a result of this.
YouTube: Search Engine, Video Sharing and Social Network:
One of the key pieces in this new era of SEO has been YouTube.com. What started out as a venue for individuals all over the world to make their video known, has grown into a significant part of the business strategy of a number of companies.
Businesses have generally engaged in two kinds of video creation:
- Some have contributed largely commercial videos. In other words, these kinds of videos would be the same as those that might appear in a television commercial. They would reflect the promotion of the business and whatever products and services it offers.
- Other companies, started long ago in offering the kind of video advertising that is consistent with Google's direction. The companies that it exemplified this best our home improvement companies such as Home Depot and Lowe's.
Looking at their YouTube channel, you would find a substantial number of created videos although that is not what makes it consistent with Google's direction. It is the tone of their videos which is important, as they generally designed not to sell product, but to inform buyers. This kind of activity is likely to place them in a good position to continue to provide answers to those that were looking.
These companies use their video channel to provide information on how to repair things in one's home as well as well as how to build on a budget. Their promotion is not direct. The individuals that speak in the videos typically don’t request that those viewing the videos come to their location to make a purchase. They simply teach and provide information to those that are looking to solve problems.
Consumers looking for information encounter these companies on a regular basis through their videos. This has a branding effect that will linger until individuals get ready to make a decision about a purchase.
This is where the strategy of being present can truly matter for companies deciding to use YouTube as their education tool, and connection medium. This is especially true since these videos are very likely to be found by individuals that are searching.
Concerns for Small Business:
The move toward authorship and providing answers, may sound like a troubling development for small businesses.
How could a small company actually keep up with a Home Depot or Lowes in creating videos and posting them on YouTube?
Who can afford the time to invest in posting each and every new and existing product into a code and have it posted in a website?
Where are the resources necessary to create educational programming using Google hangouts on a regular basis, keeping up with large companies that are staffed to do so?
All of these questions might lead one to believe that the new era of SEO, could wipe small businesses out of the equation. At least under the keyword model, companies willing to invest in the right techniques could compete with any size company big or small. The question then is if the keyword system goes away, how will small businesses compete for search engine users?
Creating Information for Marketing:
Google’s search engine engineers have been trying to determine what users’ intentions are when they are doing their search. In times past, this factor was based on what they typed into the search bar.
Now of course, the company’s has developed a more sophisticated approach in determining what the prospects are truly looking for when they type in the words into the search bar.
This means now that companies need to be intentional in providing information to their prospects. In every area of content creation, companies and their marketing consultants should think through what is a customer going to ask that I can answer? Or, what does a customer really need to know in order to use our product and/or service effectively?
Companies are not going to be able to wait until their customers and/or clients ask these questions and then put together the answers. They will need to anticipate the questions, answer them then systematically make this information available on the web.
In order to be successful in the long run, businesses will need to listen to their customers and allow them to provide feedback on problems they want to take on and goals and that they want to undertake. This is what companies will use in order to adjust their thought processes to meet the demands for customer information.