Amanda G. Watlington, Ph.D.
Missed in all of the hysteria around Mobilegeddon was the arrival of another algorithmic change, one with a very serious effect. On April 29, Google-watchers and site owners detected another "big" change creating huge drops in traffic for sites impacted. Because this change sneaked in without warning, it has been dubbed "Phantom 2." The change seems to attack the same problems addressed by Panda — the ever-pervasive and deadly — thin content. There is also speculation that another Penguin is hatching in Mountain View, readying an attack on over-optimization and other violations of Google's rules of the road.
At a baseball game the other day, I couldn't help but notice how many people in my seating area were busy looking at their phones, phablets or tablets. Baseball, with its languorous pace, provides spectators plenty of extra time to search online, check their email, send texts and engage with social media. It seems no one near me at the game was wasting a single moment of this valuable screen time. Savvy sports marketers already know this and regularly encourage social media use, providing hashtags and URLs almost everywhere.
Google seldom gives search engine marketers advance warning of algorithmic changes; however, in a rare move recently Google announced plans to penalize "doorway pages" through a ranking algorithmic adjustment. At the same time, Google clarified its quality guidelines on what constitutes a "doorway page." Designed to increase a site's search footprint for specific keywords, "doorway pages" are an old and discredited search marketing tactic. Google in its guidelines for Web development has routinely advised marketers to avoid using doorway page campaigns, because they yield a poor user experience. The question this recent move begs then is: Why is Google going after "doorway pages" now?
Google has your site on a budget. This is not just the budget that you set for your paid search ads, but this budget is one that Google controls for your organic search. Unless you are mindful of the ways that Google manages their resources and how this impacts your site, you may be squandering the organic search budget that Google allots your site. If you are dependent on search traffic from Google whether organic or paid, you need to consider how you might get more out of what is allotted to you. This may seem like a cynical view, but it is a reality.
Google has changed the requirements for its Trusted Stores program to make it easier for stores to join the program. What does this promise for the consumer, for merchants taking advantage of the offer, particularly those who went through the initial vetting process necessary to obtain the designation, as well as for Google? When Google first set up its Trusted Stores program, it provided a level of purchase protection for consumers and a conversion enhancement incentive for merchants displaying the Trusted Stores badge. The program badge provides consumers a level of confidence prior to purchase, and for consumers opting-in at time of purchase, a free purchase protection program; whereby, Google promises to intervene if there was an issue with the purchase. To display the Google Trusted Stores badge, the merchant had to submit feeds with shipping and cancellation information to prove that the merchant met specific levels of shipping and customer satisfaction performance set by Google.
As you turn the calendar to 2015, it is time once again to revisit the SEO successes or unmet challenges from the previous year and set priorities for what must get done during this year. Setting priorities for SEO is difficult. SEO is fast-moving, constantly changing and highly tactical marketing. There is always the temptation to chase the changes in search algorithms and ranking factors, for these changes require tactical solutions. It is easy to focus so intently on tactics to meet these immediate changes in the search that the overarching goals can get lost in the details, deep in the weeds. Good tactical execution done without real strategies and clearly set priorities is like driving fast with no directions or destination.
If you rely on search to assist new users in finding your site, you must now make sure that your site is mobile friendly. Here are the reasons. As Google focuses on ensuring the quality of the user's experience and the number of mobile devices increases, the volume of search traffic going to Google from these devices will continue to grow.
For many marketers, the end of the year marks the end of their budget cycle. It is certainly not revealed scripture that marketing budgets are limited and that any new expenditure must be carefully justified. In this process, it is very important not to under or overvalue the contribution of any marketing initiative. Organic search is particularly difficult to evaluate since the point at which the user connects with your marketing message can be almost anywhere in the purchase cycle—from initial research to post purchase satisfaction and loyalty.
What if someone gave you scientific data on what hundreds of sites are doing to get thousands of top keyword rankings on Google? Would you, or could you, make changes to your site to match the criteria for achieving these rankings? The data is now available. Searchmetrics has just released a new study, part of a multiyear longitudinal study on ranking factors, entitled "SEO Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations 2014—Google U.S." In this lengthy whitepaper, there are some big takeaways and lots of guidance, which savvy search marketers will turn into action plans—or roadmaps for success, as I prefer to think of them. Here are some of the nuggets gleaned from the research:
Just this past month Google confirmed that in the future, its search algorithm would be giving a rankings boost to secure sites. This confirms rumors that have rippled through the search marketing industry for several months. This recent change is part of Google's continuing efforts toward a more secure Web. Like so many pronouncements from Google, this has forced many site owners to reconsider whether to make their sites secure. Site owners need to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of going secure. It may not be either prudent or cost effective at this time.
Today, your content plays a much larger role in getting top search results than ever before; therefore, it may be time to adjust your SEO content. In September 2013, Google unveiled Hummingbird, the single largest revamp of its basic search algorithm in more than 10 years. The intent of this major change was to improve the speed and precision of the processing. It was also designed to address the changes in searcher behavior as search volumes continue to shift from desktop computers to mobile devices.
Pierre Trudeau, the former Canadian Prime Minister, once remarked about the United States: "Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt." Search marketers can say the same about Google. Every move that the search giant makes has some impact on the search marketplace. Google announces major algorithm changes as "weather reports" and indicates how Google expects the change to impact sites. These changes are usually couched in terms of what type of Web spam the search giant is attempting to reduce. Although designed to weed out poor quality sites or those that are gaming the system, these changes frequently catch many unwary sites in their net. In some instances, site owners may believe that they are following the rules.
SEO should play an important role in the marketing department; however, the death of SEO is frequently decried and its obituary written. This is because its role and fit in the overall marketing mix has changed and evolved. Once viewed as a technology play, organic search is often still considered the province of technicians, and is separated from the strategic marketing effort. Given that search often provides the tip of the spear for getting new business, this separation is a huge mistake. Today, SEO must be aligned with and guided by the overall marketing goals. This alignment can be best achieved when the SEO expert is part of the strategic marketing team.
Search continues to evolve and marketers must adapt to gain the greatest rewards and competitive advantages. Search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click (PPC) are both key components of the online marketer's tactical arsenal; however, balancing the use of these two essential tactics remains a challenge.
You can build a case for search marketing in your business and achieve measurable results. To learn how to shape the business case for search marketing, start with these three tips: Watch for trends. Best practices have continued to evolve along with search technology, so it is important to constantly monitor the industry to avoid using discredited tactics. Master sitemaps. Use the new .xml-based sitemaps protocol to improve your indexing by search engine. Learn to use sitemaps strategically; they are not a magic bullet unless you know how to load the gun. Reach out to robots. When moving a new site from the development