Like any other profession, marketers come in different shapes, sizes and specialities, we have a diverse skillsets and often, opposing areas of focus. I myself am 190cm tall and am entirely focussed on regional marketing in the tech industry (that’s quite specific) but I also have friends responsible for experiential marketing at beverage firms or heading up campaigns in the charity sector. We all have one thing in common – we are all definitely not search engine algorithm experts…and not many people are, however there are learnings for any marketer in Google’s changing algorithms, no matter what level you’re at or what your area of speciality is.
Google tends to alter its search algorithm around 500 times per year. While most of the changes are minor, Google will occasionally (and increasingly) roll out a major algorithmic update which affects search engine rankings and web traffic substantially; these rollouts are often dubbed with a code-name by the blogosphere and industry press e.g. “Pirate” or “Penguin”.
Rollouts are important for marketers to understand (at least at a basic level) because they often represent changes in consumer behaviour and technology advancements that we need to know about. You can bet that if Google is paying attention, you probably should too!
In May of this year, Google acknowledged that there had been a critical algorithm change that impacted quality signals on websites. Even though Google never released the finer details on this update, experts, bloggers and specialists quickly identified the common thread – content quality. And, even today (23 July, 2015), Google announced it would begin a rollout of “Panda 4.2” – a site-wide algorithm which punishes websites with thin or poor content.
The paradoxical truth follows: Google wants people to spend less time searching and more time connecting to users and content; as marketers, we can help our organisations, ourselves and consumers make the most of this change. It makes sense doesn’t it? If I’m looking for a new pair of running shoes, I don’t want to spend 70-80% of my time in a search engine, or navigating my way through hundreds of paid display ads, I want fresh, organic and trusted content to help me through my purchase journey. It makes me a loyal and engaged customer.
For this update, Google has outlined five key points to bear in mind, to help marketing and web people optimise our sites for visibility, conversion, rankings and most importantly – customer experience.
- Be Useful: This one just makes sense. While design is intrinsically important – never underestimate the value of “useful” information. If you’re an apparel brand, include sizing information; if you’re an artisan chocolatier, ingredients and allergen information is beneficial. Take away any barriers to purchase and enable your customers to make the best decision possible, using all the information available
- Be more valuable than others: Set yourself apart. Align your tone of voice and encourage your customers to create UGC in the same tone, for authenticity. This works particularly well in youth and experiential brands but can make huge differences in other sectors like Financial Services Industry. The likes of HSBC do this incredibly well by creating information in a consistent and divergent way – increasing time spent on site and value to the user.
- Credible: Reviews, testimonials, and all other types of UCG (user-generated content) increase trustworthiness. The placement of UGC on your website can really benefit customers as they make the journey through your website. For example, hosting curated content on your category page, can increase conversion and basket-size, but also your rankings to rival, even your product pages.
- High quality: Linked to the above, this one is all about mind-set. While increasing traffic, rankings and conversion is important in our metric-driven marketing world, remember that your primary focus should be about delivering fantastic customer experiences. We are all consumers – so this is easy to do. Just think what would help you!
- Engaging: Varying content types on your site increases engagement and we see it increasingly; from news consumption to social networks, and commerce sites. Photos, videos and new media types encourage customers to click around and absorb information in a new way. What’s more – regularly updated and curated content will keep your customers delighted…and keep Google happy too. Win-win!
Marketers don’t have to be algorithm experts to take the insights from behind Google’s updates and learn what this means for consumer behaviour – I would certainly not consider myself an expert, but by actively following algorithm changes, we can all become better marketers and understand what/why things are changing. In 2010, for example, it was agreed that the dominant language of the internet turned visual – and the latest Google algorithm updates reflect this change, with quality scoring increasing for sites that curate regular UGC.
Earlier on in the year, the “Mobilegeddon” algorithm update, also reflected a wider change in consumer behaviour – the message from Google was clear: optimise your site for mobile, or you’ll miss out. With technologies such as Apple Pay emerging and, an increasing number of devices, brands and retailers alike must respect the changes and take action.
So, what can any marketer learn from Google’s changing algorithm? Well, they can learn how to become a better marketer, by understanding and acknowledging the changing dynamics that underpin Google’s illustrious algorithm. By delving a little deeper into SEO we can make what seems unintelligible, work in our favour.