Arguably the most visible and perhaps the most significant of the changes in Google have been the Panda and Penguin updates to their organic search algorithm. The so-called “Panda” update was first launched in early 2011, but a number of other Pandas have been released into the wild since then, the latest in November 2012. The common theme across Panda updates is their focus on penalising websites that carry content deemed as “low quality” in Google’s eyes. This may include non-original content, content clearly produced for search engine reasons only or content that for any reason, Google deems does not contribute to the experience of the website user. This theme of content “quality” is likely to be one that Google continues to focus on in 2013, so is definitely an area webmasters should pay close attention to.
Panda’s close relation, the “Penguin”,was first spotted in April 2012 and concentrated on the type and quality of sites that were linking to websites. Penguin particularly focused on penalising websites that had links from "bad neighborhood" domains linking into them – this covers links from irrelevant sites, site-wide links, links that are obviously paid for and links from related “link farms” of sites. Again, Penguin focuses on Google’s belief that what’s good for the user should be good for search engines, so it discourages webmasters from aggressive old fashioned link building techniques - a theme that is likely to continue into 2013.
For webmasters looking to build and maintain their organic search traffic through 2013, the theme is therefore creation and utilization of content in a manner that engages users and promotes a brand across the piece, not just on search engines. Channel can help with this – if you want help with content creation, online PR, info-graphics or other compelling content media that can engage your users and Google simultaneously, then please contact us.
Venice Goes Local
Unless you've been living in a cave for the last year, it’s likely that you've noticed the incredible take off in mobile marketing reach. Google's response to this was its "Venice" update in February, which greatly increased the integration between organic search results and local listings, as it is reasonable to assume that users searching on mobile devices are more likely to be seeking localised results. In addition, Google+ Local (formerly Google Places) now also carries far more information than has historically been the case.
In terms of online marketing, Google+ Local now represents a significant opportunity for businesses with physical locations as well as websites, which is likely to develop further over the next 12 months. It has been having a few teething problems, but once these are resolved, it has great potential for businesses.
Ignore Google+ at your peril
Google+, the nascent social media platform, is an interesting beneficiary of these developments, as Google+Local business listings are now managed through it.
That is to say, to have a Google Local listing, businesses must have a Google+ account. This in itself offers new opportunities for the social marketer, from direct engagement with an audience through to authorship recognition and brand pages that are to be found in Google+.
Google gets personal
Google's launch of Author "Rich Snippets" allowed content creators to identify themselves as the author of articles and for both the article and their authorship to appear as a "rich snippet" in Google search results pages. This increases traffic from search results pages by standing out from standard results, but it also allows both the author and the website to build up trust in the eyes of Google - an important factor in these post Panda and Penguin days. Google+ also enables businesses to manage their presence on Google results pages using other metadata rich snippets, from reviews to events to photographs.
The platform is also powering increasing levels of "personalised" search where users logged into Google+ accounts will typically see results more tailored to their preferences, based on the information within their Google+ account. This means that increasingly, different users will see different results, meaning that the traditional method of measuring Google coverage by keyphrase ranking reports is likely to become increasingly redundant.
Online shopping – Google means business
Eagle eyed users will also have noticed other high profile changes in the Google search results pages. Most noticeable of these is arguably the launch of the Google comparison service that brings Google into competition with the likes of aggregator services such as Moneysupermarket, Confused.com and Go Compare for users searching for car insurance and other services. This service clearly brings Google into competition with its own advertisers, a contentious issuewhich also increases the amount of competition in an already crowded sector. It remains to be seen what other sectors Google will roll this offering out to in 2013.
Ecommerce sites may already be familiar with the Google Merchant Center and the opportunity that this gives retailers to have their products appear on the home page of Google in the Shopping results. The product is currently free of charge to any retailer who is able to extract a product feed from their website and upload it to Google. Come 2013 however, this situation is going to change. Any retailer wishing for their products to be included here will need to pay for it, furthering the intrusion of Google into the small businesses' budgets, but meaning that it is worth spending time on optimising your presence (and hence your budget) in this channel.
There's more to Google than SERPs
Google is of course about more than just a search engine with its ownership of properties such as YouTube. They continue to develop the opportunities for businesses here – one example being their True View advertising model which enables businesses to optimise their spend on "pre roll" advertising on YouTube. True View means that unless someone viewing the video also elects to view the entire pre roll advert, the advertiser pays nothing, extending the tried and tested Google concept of performance driven advertising beyond the search engine and into its other properties. Again, this is something that will most likely be extended into 2013.
Those clever adverts...
The Google media offering is also developing – the integration between their AdWords search advertising product and the similarly auction-based Google Display Network is becoming closer. They have also launched a new "Lightbox" ad format for their display ads, whereby an ad becomes almost full screen sized if a user hovers over it for more than 2 seconds. The size of the ad dramatically increases the amount and types of content that the ad can carry and the 2 second "wait" indicates a significant level of engagement – both of these factors are aimed at increasing the perceived value of the Google Display platform to advertisers.
And don't overlook the Analytics
One area where Google has made significant strides over the past 12 months, but that often escapes notice in the crowd of changes in the marketing arena, is their Google Analytics product. The product has made huge strides over the past year and now offers the user a range of functionality that was previously only open to those who were able to invest in big ticket systems from the likes of Omniture and CoreMetrics.
One example is the ability to set up a range of dashboards within Analytics so that different types of user can instantly see information that is relevant to them. Another is the integration of Analytics with Google Webmaster Tools which allows users to drill deep into their organic traffic and to overlay this against GWT metrics such as pages indexed or average keyphrase positions to obtain a 360 degree view of the effectiveness of their SEO programmes.
Google in 2013 – Full steam ahead
All of the above are areas where Google has developed over the past year from a marketing perspective. This direction of travel is clearly going to continue on the same path for the next 12 months.
The pace of development by Google over the last year has been rapid and the average Google Search Engine Results Page looks significantly different now to how it appeared 12 months ago. There is no reason to believe that the next 12 months will be any different, but one thing can be sure – the inexorable rise of the importance of content will continue, more types of content will be consumed on more types of devices and the importance of mobile will increase the focus on localisation.
For more information, please contact us.