Ok, not dead, but a lot less relevant.
Google’s personalized search is making agency ranking reports less and less relevant. Many current agency clients in emerging SEO/SEM markets, such as Central PA, may still be chasing the wrong metrics, and measuring agency-success by them.
Why? Because they have been trained to look at unique visits, and keyword rankings, and that’s all there is to it.
Google wants to rank site content based on an individual’s search behaviors, preferences, etc. See below:
Because I am frequently engaged with webtalentmarketing.com, and it’s associated social profiles, especially – I suspect – their Google+ profile, they rank higher for my personalized search results than they would for un-personalized results.
So, how likely is it that a client’s site will rank well for a search in the client’s market where the searcher has made repeat visits and/or purchases from the client’s competition (i.e., been repeatedly engaged)?
It seems, if they are engaged/converting with the competition, than that relationship is working for the searcher and the website, and Google likes to repeat processes that have proven successful. What does this mean for a client? When you give them a ranking report, it shows where they will show up in Google if there is no personalization, which isn’t where they are actually showing up anymore.
Webtalentmarketing.com is no longer in position 3 – so their ranking results report would tell them they are in position 25, when, in fact, they may show up higher for some, and not at all for others.
On the flip side of that, marketingignite.com will have a ranking report showing them as #3 for “online marketing company”, but in my personalized results, that is not where they show up. So ranking reports are misleading.
Personalization is now forced on users of Google and Bing if they are not logged in.
When you are logged in, you have the option to turn personalization off – if you are aware of the possibility, and have any idea where to turn it off (see the two paired grey buttons in the upper-right hand corner of the screen? The globe means “un-personalized” and the little “person” means personalized).
So, a ranking report is now an indicator of relevance, not a metric whereby you judge the average click through rate of a listing in position X, to determine what your traffic SHOULD be, etc., etc.
The Problem Presented with Personalized Search
How do you reach searchers in your market if Google is changing the way the online search game is played? The answer is Engagement – through Social and Website Content, and Advertising.
Google continues to incorporate social signals into their ranking algorithm. But how will that play into search ranking? If your competitor’s engage with their market through social campaigns and initiatives, and you don’t, then you’ll be missing out on the added ranking factors to place your site in front of searchers.
Content Publishing and Marketing
More, better-quality content equals more links. Why? Because content people enjoy and find value in, is content they want to share, and bookmark, and come back to again and again. More links and shares equals greater page and domain authority. Greater page and domain authority equals higher rank (which is now just ‘relevance’).
Once you have published content, you cannot assume that “they will come”. You must have a content marketing plan, and as well as a content creation plan. Consistently putting quality content in front of people will build credibility, brand awareness, and trust.
If you create conversion goals on content pages designed to generate leads, and market that content well, you have the potential to get in front of the consumer while they are in a research phase. Content served in search results for informational queries would be informational, not transactional, so the ranking factors Google will use to serve informational content would be based on user engagement – time on site, bounce rate, pages per visit for people who begin on that page, as opposed to ecommerce conversions.
Note: Even though ranking reports are now inaccurate, like so much of the data SEOs have to use, Google’s Webmaster Tools provides your top 1000 queries each month, on a rolling 30-day period, and their average rank in search over that time. You cannot get data prior to the 30 days they show you, so you should download your data every 30 days for historical records.
Advertising – Search and Content Networks
You should be advertising online. Your ads should include a value proposition, and a call to action, which should lead to a landing page on your site that reiterates the value proposition and call to action, and is optimized for conversion and user experience. If users get to your page through an ad and convert, than you are demonstrating to Google that you are actively improving User Experience (UX), care about UX, and Google will factor that into their ranking algorithm.
I don’t know the formula, but if your company converts X number of users for product A, and your competitor converts X or less for comparable product B, then Google could potentially consider your site as a viable and relevant option to serve to a consumer who has purchased from your competitor on the grounds that they may have a better experience with your site, and possibly your product because more people seem to be buying the comparable product from your site. Does that make sense?
Okay, but search only takes up 4% of time spent online, so how do you get in front of consumers in your market when they aren’t on search? Follow them around and serve them banner ads on a CPM basis to keep your brand and value proposition in front of them.
Use a newsletter and email marketing. Use conventional offline marketing mediums to direct them to your site and social profiles. Continue to engage them in all areas, and, over time, you will naturally do better and improve traffic and conversions on your site – no matter where you are actually ranking in search results.
Image Credit:Use a newsletter