The SEO Apocalypse – How to Survive Google’s Massive Encryption

Google main search from MoneyBlogNewz on Flickr
Google main search from MoneyBlogNewz on Flickr

In the marketing world, SEO has been a key investment for brands and companies hoping to boost visibility online. In the early days, marketers only had to use one or two of their main keywords 32 times in any piece of content online, Google worked its magic, and boom: first page of a search for that key term. Even though that’s an extremely simplistic view of the beginnings of SEO, it used to be the general idea. After years of roll outs, updates and government conflicts, Google SEO as we know it has become a thing of the past. A recent panel with the Austin SEO MeetUp group helped an SEO newbie, such as myself, understand how things were, how they are, and how they will be in the world of search engine optimization.

The Problem, Perception, and Progression

In October 2011, Google announced its most recent search encryption, an attempt to keep control of privacy in light of federal government requests for information. Google gave the impression that, once the encryption rolled out, the changes would be very minor, affecting just a single digit of keyword traffic for only logged-on Google users. No biggie, right? One month after this announcement, however, 17% of keywords had been encrypted. From April 2012 to August 2013, term (not provided) steadily increased up to 48%, encrypted search terms in non-signed-in users reached 60-80%, and today we sit at an overwhelming 81% encryption, anticipating 100% search term not provided by the end of the year. So much for those single digits…

Implications: What does it all mean?

If you’ve dabbled in SEO in the last year, you’ve probably noticed that the majority of your keywords are encrypted on any analytics platform – so what did we actually lose, and did we gain anything in return?

  • We lost the simple ROI pitch. Initially, marketers could view keywords that directed searchers on to their sites. It was an easy way to talk about investing in search marketing, especially SEO. When marketers look at site analytics now, they can no longer see which key terms are sending people to their site, compounding the complexity of SEO and adding to the already low investment environment of search marketing.
  • We lost the brand vs. non-brand distinction. Generally, there are more people that do not know your brand than people that do. Key terms that people search on that don’t contain a brand’s name hold a huge potential for customers, allowing marketers to look at visits coming into a website on branded terms (Oreos) versus non-branded terms (cookie sandwiches) – extremely valuable information. Post-encryption, marketers can see people are searching for their brand (cool), or just something (that’d be nice to know…) and ending up on their site.
  • We lost the ability to read Google’s mind. Marketers used to be able to just look at your content and where certain terms were located and get a good sense of where Google might rank that page. With the new encryption, it’s become more complicated to track and make inferences on how exactly Google will perceive your content, keywords or not.
  • We gained a better planet online. The number one factor that affects page rank is its perceived value to users, closely followed by authorship metrics, influence of Google+, social shares, and content readability. Google’s trying to rank content’s real value, can we blame them?

SEO (life) as we knew it is over. Not all is lost, but what now?

  • Google webmaster tools and adwords. This is a fantastic source of data where you can still learn about keywords that drive traffic to your site. Its accuracy is debatable, but it’s a step closer in the right direction on the desperate journey to finding what key terms are bringing visitors to your page. On the downside, these tools limit results to the top 2000 queries, and for many companies that’s just not enough as they may be getting a million visits a day, creating an issue of visibility. Additionally, webmaster only tracks three months of historical data at a time. While there is talk of expansion, it restricts data comparisons and progress reports to three month periods, when most people like to view year over year stats.
  • New metrics. As Google evolves, so should we. In the past, marketers have focused heavily on keyword level metrics, traffic and ranking. Google is emphasizing keywords less and taking into account phrases, combinations of words, and their meaning and sentiment. These improvements to the ranking algorithm are attempts to understand the content, not just pick out how many times the word “shoes” shows up in a blog post. Page level analytics and experiences are also of utmost importance now. Conversion rates, bounce rates, page behavior are components worth measuring for an accurate account of site visitor stats.
  • New approach: map your keywords. Build a page that helps you recognize the lifecycle of a customer in terms of keywords on your site. Marketers will have a much better chance of mapping where Google is going in the future of SEO, basing predictions on intent rather than words. See what pages are receiving the most traffic: Product pages? Services? Home page? Categories?  Interpreting the data in front of you can lead to valuable information for longer term SEO investment validity. Bing has yet to encrypt any data, and YouTube, the second biggest search engine, has a keyword volume tool – take advantage where you can!

Change happens. We like to be dramatize major changes, but we saw this coming and now we just need to adapt to the new SEO environment. In the long run, Google is only making us better content creators, so let’s ease up the apocalypse-talk and start strategizing the new generation of search marketing. Have you come across any interesting SEO changes lately? We’d love to hear how you’re tackling the new Google algorithm!

Google+ and B2B: Drink the Kool-Aid

Let’s say you’re training to be the next Sanya Richards-Ross and you’ve got a track meet next spring that you’re planning to dominate. You bought the high-tech water bottle, the chicest of running outfits and have really committed to your weekly training schedule. You’re doing everything right! Except for one thing… you’re training in some worn-out Converse shoes you’ve had since high school. Your track meet rolls around, and you’re the fittest of them all, but before the first lap is over you’ve fallen behind your competitors.

In a similar way, Facebook and Twitter are still widely used and well-loved, just like that nifty pair of Converse shoes you’ve been hanging on to, but if you haven’t upgraded to some Nike trainers and aren’t including Google+ in your marketing efforts, you’ll be last place in the race for SEO success and B2B glory.

Google+ has taken off in the last several years as the search engine giant’s attempt at a new social platform. It initially landed on the social scene with a flop, but the good people at Google stood by their new product and have boosted Google+ into popularity contention with Facebook while surpassing Twitter and LinkedIn in active users. Over the course of its lifetime, it’s now become a widely used tool for businesses in virtually all verticals. So what can Google+ bring to the B2B marketing table?

Brands like Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard and VMWare are taking advantage of the platform’s most beneficial B2B marketing uses. Here are a few things we can learn from these Google+ gurus:

  • When visiting their company pages, you first notice that they’ve put some actual thought into the look and feel of their profile. A visually appealing and interesting cover photo immediately catches the eye and can actually keep people on your page for a longer amount of time.
  • Outside of optical impressions, you can see that each company posts regularly on not only company updates, but industry news and current events. A consistent and relevant presence on any platform is a good rule of thumb, especially if thought leadership and industry expertise are important factors in your B2B campaigns for growing your customer base.
  • Hashtags, photos, infographics and videos are all great ways to beef up company posts that give profile visitors a more engaging experience overall. The more you can connect what you have to say to significant trends and hot topics in society, the more visibility you’ll harness for your brand. Making those connections noteworthy for your prospects can lead to a phenomenal B2B marketing program that could result in new customers.

Facebook and Twitter are obvious tycoons in the social sphere, but in terms of the best platform for business to business efforts, Google+ overpowers the other two outlets used mainly to talk to consumers directly. Its integrated features for SEO and video boost online visibility and its customizable categories in the form of circles is one of the best segmentation tools on the social web. Here are three main points to keep in mind when considering how your company can build its Google+ presence and why.

Highly Targeted Segmentation

Utilizing the circles feature in Google+ can make a world of difference in your efforts to reach specific groups, customers or prospects. By segmenting the companies and users followed by a company page, businesses can push out extremely specific information that can directly relate to any particular vertical your business has grouped into a circle. This kind of targeting is invaluable for B2B companies that need subdividing tools to effectively reach potential customers in various lines of business.

Sensational SEO

The entity that controls almost all search criteria and results for the entire internet of everything has created a social platform – you should be on it. Google+ places a great emphasis on search engine optimization throughout its whole platform, a huge differentiator from Facebook and Twitter.  Because Facebook and Twitter restrict certain data from Google’s search indexes, time spent marketing on Google+ leads to more tangible SEO results as it is directly correlated to PageRank. This article on Social Media Today does a great job of outlining the real SEO benefits of using Google+ in your marketing and PR mix.

Hangouts: More than Just Video Chatting

photo by brianDhawkins on flickr

Businesses these days are looking for ways to integrate and optimize more and more, so while we have all come to love Skype, it may be time to streamline communication and use Google+’s Hangouts for all your video needs. It acts as a video chat application, eliminating extraneous platforms like Skype, but Hangouts leverage the power of Google and its partners to boost your online visibility. Hangouts can be recorded as videos and shared directly to YouTube, letting you share product demos with prospects, stream live presentations for interested parties that can’t attend the trade show your company is keynoting, or simply post general company updates from the executive team to your audience using a highly engaging channel. Internal uses include client meetings, staff meetings, training sessions and more that will help you and your company maintain a strong and effective hold on brand image.

Every dollar counts in PR and marketing budgets, so breathe easy when making the call to jumpstart your company’s Google+ presence – when done properly, you’ll get some major bang for your B2B marketing buck! Is your company on Google+? Post your comments and experiences here – we’d love to see how you’re using it!