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 signalof 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.