Posted on | August 22, 2010 | No Comments
Well, the two big news stories involving Google this week have certainly made headlines. The move to beef up visual search and the algorithmic change to showcase big brands on most of page 1 of select SERPs caught a lot of attention for GOOG. I’m going to attempt to add some critical thinking to the discussions here. I can see upsides and downsides like most, but I’ll do my best to keep an even keel and divine a useful path forward for readers.
By now most folks have heard that Google has made a change to their algorithm which allows the SERP page to display one domain across most-to-all of the organic results shown.
Without going into too much detail, I’m going to drop these links on recent conversations and articles to get you up to speed if you missed this tidbit of recent news:
After having a few days to watch this new change in action, and to test various phrases to see what results are returned, I’m left with a couple thoughts:
As the brand itself, you should be watching for increased inbound referral from search. Gone are the days of simply thinking you’ll rank well for your brand as we used to see. Sure, you’re still number one, but now the hunt is on to refine those extra results Google is showing. How best to capture higher converting traffic by optimizing select pages against phrases should now be in your playbook.
Given the access to patterned data the engines have, they can easily understand the percentiles involved when a query such as Apple pops up. That data allows them to gamble a bit more confidently that the searcher wants the Apple, Inc. website, as opposed to information on a piece of fruit.
Currently, this all leads me to believe that this change, while beneficial to the brands affected, will have less down-side affect on other websites. I mean, you haven’t built your organic keyword strategy around targeting your competitors brand have you? If yes, then you well may be impacted greatly – and I have to say, this was not a wise course to chart in the first place, now, was it?
I think the big brands will see more brand-related traffic coming to them, which is reasonable, given it IS their brand. This will also serve as a bit of a flag for smaller and emerging brands – if you see a full page of results around YOUR brand, it’s an indication Google feels you’ve “reached the big time”. Could this be an actual, track-able metric for brand awareness online? Well, maybe not really, but still, if you’re using rank tracking as a reportable metric, you might as well slip this one into the bunch as well and hang your hat on it. (If you cannot tell, I’m not a fan of rank as a metric… )
Now, before the whole industry spins out of control bemoaning this change, again, I’ll suggest folks relax and have a beer. Here’s what struck me last night as I drifted off to sleep (yes, I dream about search, too)…
I was once told the percentage breakdown of clicks on SERP results went something like this. Please understand, this data was from a third party source (I trust him, he’s industry, successful, and well known). It was not meant to be absolute and I’m rounding things off a bit here. In practice, as your WMT accounts will show, the actual figures vary greatly based on actual keywords, so an average such as I’m presently is more for illustration, than action. I’ll also state this plainly: This is NOT Bing data. So here goes…
Page 1 of SERPs
Page 2 of SERPs
Now, if we assume this data hold even an ounce of water, how does the new brand-centric shift in Google’s results affect things? Well, if those non-brand results on the first SERP page are shifted lower, then those still-useful and relevant results will begin to occupy territory usually thought of as being of secondary value – namely, the second and third SERP pages. This shift could manifest in changes to the CTRs we see on page 2 & 3 of the SERPs in fact. As users become accustomed to the brand-first display, there is a chance they’ll actively seek out the 2nd page with its variety of results. This could see users shift value to these results, effectively driving UP CTR on the 2nd and, potentially, 3rd SERP pages. Now, this is all speculative, of course. In the bigger picture, the brands will absorb more traffic originally intent on finding them, but for those on the fringes seeking conversions, this *could* signal a new form of filtering, rendering “better value searchers” making it through to the 2nd and 3rd SERP pages..
If a user seeks results beyond the first page actively, they must be more intent on seeking a result, else the first page results would have captured them. We should be asking, if they were willing to work harder to find the desired result, are they more likely to convert when they reach that desired result? They’ve already demonstrated an intent to seek data further than most searchers. Will this translate to those searchers being viewed as more valued? Will this “filtering” result in more conversion-oriented searchers being found on the 2nd and 3rd SERP pages now?
I find this line of thinking is highly intriguing…you can feel free to label me a nutter.
On the topic of visual search for a minute now, before I wrap up, I think it’s about time Google got with it. Bing’s release of their excellent visual search functionality earlier this year heralded a new direction for the major engines (disclosure: I work for Microsoft.). Images have long been a popular form of search, but using that area to actually search for things was a bit hit or miss at the engines until Bing rolled out their new space.
Now, with Google’s purchase of Like.com to add muscle to their own visual product search space, we’re going to truly see a shift in user interaction. Now searchers will virtually window shop for popular products, allowing them to interact with richly detailed images to see the potential purchase from all angles prior to placing it in the cart. Clearly visual search will play a much bigger role in online shopping in the future. Why else would these two huge companies (MSFT & GOOG) invest so heavily in it?
No matter how you cut it, though, the world has shifted. How much remains to be seen, but you can count on one thing that’s for sure…
This timing is directly aimed at lining up big-brand & product searches in time for this upcoming holiday season. With the effects of algorithmic changes needing weeks to months to be fully felt, this organic release slots in perfectly to help big brands potentially post record breaking sales figures this coming Black Friday. Add in the effects of introducing a dramatically improved product search space and the overall result could be huge for all involved.
Maybe these changes are less about relevance and more about saving the economy? THAT kind of PR would certainly help GOOG adhere to their ethos of doing no evil. With so many bemoaning this algorithmic shift and nay-saying, perhaps they simply need to take a bigger view to understand Google is truly out to save the country…
OK, OK, I’ll take off my tin-foil hat now… LOL
Still, if this shift drives online sales volumes higher, one thing I’ll be thankful for this fall is the huge investment that continues in the world of search.