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As users, we rely on Google heavily in many aspects of our lives. We use it to find document formatting tutorials for work or to find the perfect quiche recipe to make at home. If we need directions to our new doctor’s office, Google is likely going to be our first stop.
Lately, however, Google has made some pretty significant changes that, as users, we probably won’t be aware of immediately. When it comes to SEO marketing, the changes can seem a little intimidating at first. Fortunately, there are solutions to the issues the changes have created so far.
What Has Google Changed?
For the last couple of decades, Google has consistently sent more searches and organic traffic than any other search engine. There was never a time when their level of natural activity plateaued or declined. Each month saw more activity than the last. As a result, Google’s the largest, most popular search engine on the internet and they’ve provided fantastic opportunities for advertising, audience growth, and traffic increase.
The good news? The changes Google has made have nothing to do with losing ground or receiving fewer searches. The changes are more in line with improving user experience and streamlining search engine results. As we are changing how we search, Google is turning to adjust.
The bad news? SEO just got a bit harder. Since Google is removing some organic search results, the challenge for us as marketers is learning how to navigate the changes and learning to use them for the benefit of our businesses and brands. Ranking signals have changed with advent in technology and Google’s ability to use machine learning on the cheap.
Why Has Google Made These Changes?
While Google doesn’t have to provide us with explanations for why they make the changes they do, the evidence suggests that the adjustments are the result of the changes in how we search and Google’s desire to improve and streamline the user experience among other things.
When it comes to Adwords, for example, the importance of quality score is one of the first things marketers using these ads must understand. Google has shown they would rather refrain from showing an underperforming ad than to display it and have it take away from a user’s experience. Perhaps they are adopting a similar ideology for organic search results as well.
Google sees the increase in mobile traffic and the growing use of voice search. They are also continuing their agenda for secure internet. In keeping up with the changes and devising strategies to make them work to our advantage, as marketers, we will be able to navigate the changing SEO landscape and remain competitive.
Why Are Google’s Changes Scary?
What has Google been up to?
Answer Boxes: If we go to Google and type in “What time is it in London?” Google replies with an answer box that has the current time in London, and the UK along with the date and the timezone. Google itself fully answers the question. There’s no need to click through to any of the websites below that answer. If Google doesn’t present a definitive answer, it will offer an arrangement of knowledge card results about the given topic with a list of things other related queries.
Drop in Total Organic Clicks: Between August and November 2017, there was a deviance observed in the total number of organic clicks sent by Google in the U.S. Thanks to the folks at Jumpshot Marketing Analytics, an adjusted seasonal drop was recorded for the first time. It’s not known whether this also occurred outside of the U.S. The drop wasn’t substantial but it was enough to cause concern among SEO and marketing specialists.
Google in Commercial Spaces: When we go to look up so many things now in Google from travel costs to jobs to products, we will find a lot fewer options. Want to check on a flight from our local airport to Lexington, Kentucky? Type that into Google, and we will first see results from Google showing us available dates, airlines, durations, and prices. It’s Google trying to grab our attention so we’ll use their flight utility to book our trip, not the wealth of sites beneath.
Local SERPS Not Reliant on Websites: Local SERPS are ever more commonly used and fine-tuned to the point that we may never need to click on a website. The challenge is to find a site in either the desktop or mobile versions of local searches that we can click. If we search for a local pet shop, trying to find the website of a small, locally-owned shop we use often, we may have no luck or spend a lot of time frustrated before we find that link. SERPS that are seemingly independent of websites is being seen more and more in Google’s search results.
Zero-Results SERPS: Earlier this year, Google ran a large-scale test with zero-results SERPS. They removed organic search results from a small number of searches with definitive answers like “What time is it in Los Angeles?” The SERPs then displayed the answer box with a “Show all results” button below. According to Danny Sullivan at Google, the searches were limited to a small answer set that included calculators, time/date queries, and unit conversions. On March 20, 2018, the test concluded for the moment. While the use of zero-results SERPs isn’t new, it’s also not over, and some SERPS will continue to diminish.
Solutions for Marketers
While the changes Google is making does have an enormous impact on how marketers, web developers, and business owners handle SEO, there are still ways to promote and be competitive. Voice search for an example if on a very rising slope.
Rank for Brands and Branded Product Names:
One highly effective method to use moving forward with Google is investing in demand generation as opposed to demand serving. If we’re searching for organic pet food, for example, what results are we given? The results are mostly lists of top organic pet food brands or comparisons between commercial pet food and natural products. At the bottom of the page, we see a carousel of options to refine by brand. If we were optimising for an organic pet food business, this would be difficult to optimise for, especially when you consider that Google could remove demand or click-through rate opportunities from it at any time.
If we search for the specific brand of pet food, the opportunity to rank is high. Google isn’t likely to remove the ability for companies to rank their brand names. When it comes to navigational searches, the website for specific brand names has to be provided to the user. In creating more demand for the particular brand of organic pet food as opposed to the general demand for just organic pet food, we have a way to remain competitive. The same principle, creating demand for a brand rather than unbranded terms, can also be applied to content, social media, email marketing, and more.
Optimise for Multiple Platforms:
Youtube and Google Images make up roughly one half of the overall bulk of Google web search. There’s a substantial amount of traffic we can optimise for between the two platforms. With the recent removal of “view image directly” from Google search, the performance of images is diminished with more people visiting websites than Google Images. Since experts predict that video traffic will account for the majority of web traffic by 2021, Youtube is a powerful tool in building a brand and brand awareness.
Social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter, also offer significant amounts of web traffic and they should be utilised. In putting our content out there on these platforms and optimising for them, we have a golden opportunity to draw significant traffic back to our websites.
Optimise What Google Gives You:
Answers: When it comes to the answers that Google is providing for questions, either through visual or voice, these can be influenced according to experts, even when the search ends with the SERP. According to experienced marketers, it’s not only possible to get our content in those answer boxes, but there is an opportunity to increase our click-through rates as well. Once we’ve determined the query we want to optimise for, they recommend identifying the keywords most likely to generate answer boxes and tracking the SERPs to gain an understanding of where the answer boxes will appear. Content can then be prepped through careful structuring, knowing how much information to give without giving too much away, and the use of Google Console to request that pages be re-evaluated.
Local: Perhaps things seem hopeless because Google appears to have minimised the ability for a website to draw the clicks it once did from local Google searches. All is not lost. Here Google My Business may be of great use. By optimising the information provided there so that when people perform a particular query, they are more likely to receive information on our business, products, or services. They may not be given a link to our website, but details about our business will still be available thanks to the optimisation efforts. While this particular tactic is not often mentioned in trending SEO strategies, it’s valuable because we can optimise there and still appear in the results even when the search experience ends at the SERP.
Results: Google was still displaying AdWords during the zero-results sets, and that means if we still have customer objectives, we can utilise RLSA (remarketed lists for search advertising), or place and optimise paid ads. There’s also a chance we may be able to claim some of the data that shows up in zero-results SERPS when they are rolled back out in the future on Google.
While SEO methods are shifting in light of Google’s changes, there is still much we can do as marketers. Creating fresh, relevant content of real value to our audience is always a must. An understanding of the customer journey at each stage is also crucial information to have and to apply to our marketing efforts. With that knowledge, we can diversify our efforts beyond organic and paid search. A marketer will not want to concentrate all of their efforts on something that is currently in a state of change.
Keeping up with the changes Google makes and the impact on our specific brands is one of the most important things we can do. With the willingness to be a perpetual student and to find and devise workarounds for the issues created by Google’s changes, we’ll remain effective marketers in an evolving new era of internet use.