Back when I was a kid, we had 10 search engines. Not one of them was Google! Things were more complicated since we had many requirements, spawning much trial and error. In a way, things were also much simpler back then, since it was generally easier to get good results if you knew what to pay attention to. Search engines didn’t really care much about the content itself. As long as you did your keyword research, and drafted your title and meta-tags accordingly, SEO programs drove targeted traffic with some careful tending.
Then one day Google showed up and changed the search universe. It cared about content, quality content, and actually tested the claims we made via our metatags and such. As a result, the world was forced to stop playing games, and present useful, well organized content to users. Google was successful since it focused on quick, more accurate results. What a concept! Soon after, most of the search engines got either gobbled up or just died away.
Google recently announced that it is shaking up the universe again by further encrypting organic (non-paid) search string data. Essentially, this means you’ll have no idea what exact search phrase someone used to organically arrive at your website or page. For web marketers and SEO’s, this is a cataclysmic doomsday scenario. Why? Simply since this is arguably the most useful data that Google collects and shares to fuel the success of a long term SEO strategy. This data is the best indicator of visitor’s intent, a key to the search success equation. If we know exactly what they are looking for, we can give it to them.
Is SEO Dead?
So, now what? Is SEO dead? Of course not, but it means we need to change our strategies to succeed. The golden rule of SEO has not changed: the way to win is lots of quality, well organized content. But now, you’ll need to be more strategic in how you present it, and measure its performance.
Conveniently, if you have a PPC program, you can still get this data for pay-to-play performance. While this can give some clues as to search strings for organic, it’s most useful for managing your paid presence on Google. But Google, a company that professes “don’t be evil”, claims it did this to protect the privacy of users. In other words, this has nothing to do with forcing you to pay them. Though keep in mind that the only way Google became a multi-bajillion dollar business is by charging people to advertise. Just sayin’.
Strategies for Success in the New World
Regardless of true intent, here are some specific strategies you can employ to help maintain success:
Custom Manufacturers – services such as machining, molding or fabricating tend to be sourced with location in mind, as well as industry/application. Previously, you would include lots of industry and geo-specific data on your site. Keyword data would indicate what capability and location words people were using. For instance, “CNC Machining New York”, would tell you that the person is looking around NY for machining. This data could be helpful in adjusting your content to improve results long term. Maybe you would showcase more jobs done for New York customers, or use this insight to plan other marketing efforts. The good news here is that geography data is still available, so you can see at least where the searches are originated. For industry and application targeting, you’ll need to develop targeted content. Start by building industry specific pages for each capability, and focus on the services and attributes unique to that industry. For example, if machining aluminum for the aerospace world, make a page just for that – instead of cramming it all into your general “CNC Machining Services” page. Over time, pay attention to the amount of page views that each page is getting to get to help keep your finger on the pulse.
For OEM manufacturers and distributors that make products with model numbers, this is also a crushing blow. Without knowing what people are searching, you’ve lost the ability to easily see what specific products people are seeking. This data can be used is handy for operations in addition to marketing. Further, you’ve lost the chance to identify variations that people use for product names, or even attribute labels. The best solution here is to make sure that you have an item level detail page for each of your products. You can track this individually to see which products are in demand. When building up your attributes, think about the various ways people will search, for instance try to include “inch”, “inches” and “IN”.
Brand marketing strategies also got kicked in their faces. If you are looking to see how many people are searching with your name, vs by product or capability, that’s become difficult. My solution for brand tracking is one that can apply to your entire strategy: Remember that Google isn’t the only search engine in the world. You can still pull some valuable data from Bing and Yahoo! to give you insight into keyword searches. This includes all searches, including brand specific ones. Rather than follow suite, I’m sure these engines will use this as a competitive advantage. (Since Google still owns a majority of market share, the others have nothing to lose.)
Do You Feel Scroogled?
While I am generally not a fan of negative campaigns, I can’t help but feel like we all got a little Scroogled in this deal, especially when it seems that Google is the only one that truly stands to benefit. We’re all used to dancing with Google since it started throwing curve balls at us many years ago. (I know, bad mix of two clichés there.) But if you focus on what’s important – quality content above all – and reorganize into narrower silos for tracking, you can measure behavior, make adjustments accordingly and win in the long run.
(c)2013, by Phil Paranicas