It feels right to once again remind my site visitors and valued clients of what’s happening with the Google search results (at an ever increasing pace.) I’m seeing Google+ being used more often to vet sites for their appropriateness at the top of search engines. Brands that are not bothering with social signals are thinning out. Sure, they still rank for their brand name, but the mid-to-long tail keywords are not working as well. The basics are still critical. On-page approaches, link building, diversity of citations and so on still matter. But now it’s more.
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My consultancy feels the brunt of this because I am always trying to focus my clients’ attention towards this future. This harder, more demanding future. Many surely wish they could go back to the old days of SEO.
“Google is going to be taking content shared at Google+ much more seriously and forcing marketers to pay attention by any means necessary” (Jeff Woelker in MarketingProfs)
But I believe that Flat search ranking reports will soon tilt downward over time even if we take care of the SEO basics we all know. The effort to stay on top of competition will be unambiguously related to a company’s ability to embrace their internal content production talent – their experts – and to give them the opportunity to engage online. Corporate voice is becoming muted in favor of authorship-enhanced individuals’ authority. But it’s happening too slowly to show up on many CMO’s radar, making it a hard sell with limited resources.
I used to think it would be easy to explain this. Google wants to rank what’s interesting, and that is determined by users’ behavior. How much they share, like and comment on a piece of content is a very reliable method for determining its engagement potential. And highly engaging content at the top of search results makes users happy and keep coming back. They enjoy reading it, it speaks to them, it addresses their pain points, they feel good when they share it.
Some of this effort needs some help, so we have social amplification to work with. This blend of organic and paid boosting into the social networks can be confusing. It requires a broad meta-view of the channel as it is today, not 2 years ago. Amplification requires strategic thinking that is timely and tied to near-real-time analytics.
But it’s been hard for many customers because of the gradual nature of this change. It’s not that they aren’t listening to me, but we don’t have a dramatic “OMG we fell off the first two pages” type of event. An emergency meeting isn’t called, and things get put off. After you’ve looked at a hundred search results, you get an intuitive sense where Google’s going and I’m desperate to communicate that to my clients. Another confusing factor is causation vs correlation. Are higher ranked pages shared more often? Or does sharing these pages result in higher rank?
This can be hard to prove, but you can see how some brands are succeeding. I think they’re doing a lot of listening, a lot of content creation and quite a bit of social amplification – forming a positive feedback loop from which one output is ever-stronger social signals. Will that be enough to lift them to the top? Probably not… but I do think that user engagement will be a pre-requisite or supplement to other trusted rank signals such as links.
Google follows the oohs and ahhs. They’re looking at what social networks are looking at. And social networks are picky.
post-it photo by Jennifer Morrow via (cc) license