As a Digital Agency, we routinely track keyword ranking results on behalf of our marketing clients. Lately we have noticed that this is becoming increasingly difficult to do accurately. Our software tools access the Google API for a specific regional Google site (google.com.au for example) so we can determine how a client is ranking in their regional market. The problem is that as Google and other search engines increasingly ‘personalise’ search results per user, these ranking results reports are becoming more inaccurate because we are seeing the ‘raw’ results, before they are customised at the user level.
The question is rapidly becoming, ‘How well do you rank for a keyword for that specific search engine user at query time’?
In other words, ‘Is Relevance Becoming Relative’?
Google recently announced changes to their privacy policies. They are aggregating all privacy policies from across all Google products into one ‘super policy’ – theoretically making it easier to understand for users.
However it also clearly states:
“Tailored for you
If you’re signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries – or tailor your search results – based on the interests you’ve expressed in Google+, Gmail, and YouTube. We’ll better understand which version of Pink or Jaguar you’re searching for and get you those results faster.”
Whilst this infers that this change only affects users logged into their Google account we know that Google has personalised ALL Google search results since at least late 2009.
What this new policy does is take personalisation one step further and Google are telling you that they will be aggregating logged in usage data across all Google products (i.e. Gmail, Google Search, YouTube, Google+ etc). We must also assume this will also affect results for non-logged in users in some way.
When we perform Search Engine Optimisation on a client site, we start with keyword research of course. There are many ways we do this but the Google Keyword Tool is as good a place to start as any. This tool will show you, by region, what the search demand is for keywords (and their variants) each month, along with the relative competitiveness for securing that particular audience. This data is composed primarily of data from AdWords and other Google sources.
This data is helpful but it is aggregate data and is not particularly useful at the individual query level, for obvious reasons (read: privacy). This leads to issues around which terms are best to perform SEO for. As discussed above it is also difficult to report to clients in terms of how your SEO efforts are performing since we have no objective source for ranking results since all results are becoming relative to the user in question.
We have seen this with our own clients and the clients with a strong Social Media strategy already rank higher for their key search terms than those that have no Social Media presence at all. In fact, one recent article surmises that there is really no longer a dividing line between SEO and Social Media.
The take away from all of this is, sites that also do social well will be handsomely rewarded. Historically, investments in Social Media have been a hard sell to clients who see it as purely a branding exercise, or worse a black hole of money with no real benefit or accountability attached to it. The latest Google change further validates the resources we have been encouraging our clients to dedicate to the arena of Social Media for some time now.
The reality is that in terms of SEO, there used to be 2 key focuses: On Page and Off Page. On Page SEO of course focused on page copy/content, title and description tags, image tags and other factors that if harmonised around a specific Keyword, meant all other things being equal, your page should rank higher than your competitors page. Off Page SEO focuses primarily on quality link building efforts.
There is a 3rd element of SEO that can no longer be ignored – Social SEO. Social Media can no longer be looked at in isolation. Social SEO must now be integrated into an overall SEO strategy and looked at as but one tactic within that strategy. The businesses that fail to appreciate this will simply perform poorly in organic search results no matter how much they invest in On/Off Page SEO.
As an agency, having Google tacitly add credibility to our historical client recommendations around Social Media investment has earned us a few browny points with those clients that may have thought we were simply selling the latest ‘shiny thing’. Social is a trend, not just a fad and personalised search results and their increasing reliance on social signals bears this out.
The good news is that so many sites do Social Media poorly that this new frontier presents new opportunities for sites to gain a search results ‘edge’ if they execute social well.
Digital Account Manager
Exceed Online is a full service eCommerce and Online Marketing agency serving clients throughout New Zealand and Australia.