The Need To Unlearn
It went official this week: Google now has behaviorally-targeted PPC Ads. Before we talk about the ramifications of this act on small/business owners, let’s figure out what this actually means.
Explaining Google Behaviorally-Targeted PPC Ads System:
Google has raised privacy concerns with its newly launched interest-based advertising, which displays ads based on users’ previous searches and page views.
The new Google advertising system, currently in beta, links “categories of interest” to the user’s browser, allowing targeted ads to appear even when the user is looking at a page totally unrelated to the ad’s subject matter.
Let’s not forget to mention, even though Google’s not saying it, they’re targeting by IP Address as well. Meaning, you don’t have to be logged into your Google Account to get “personalized”, behaviorally-targeted ads. And, this is just the beginning folks. While it’s not fully-instituted in SERPs (search engine results pages), the SEO/SEM community has been following this trend for over a year now, and we’ve seen instances of “personalized” results peeking in and out of the SERPs already.
If you read my November 2008 post, I discussed this topic there as well, but briefly.
Why Small Business Owners Need To Unlearn What They Know About SEO:
Unlearning is about the most difficult thing to ask anyone to do, let alone small/business owners who just got on the SEO bandwagon and want to see RANK. For years they’ve resisted, were reluctant to throw their hat in the search/web marketing ring. And, sadly, for them, the rules have changed.
SERP Rank is Dead
RANK is dead. The introduction of behaviorally targeted, personalized search with PPC has now opened up the flood gates. In this new era, it hardly matters where you “rank” for certain keywords. Users will have the most relevant results served up to them based on previous search habits and geographic locality.
Mind you, this does not mean SEO is dead. Far from it. SEO is more important than ever. With this new spin on search, comes decreased visibility for terms that national/global users would have found you for. Competitive or not, you could have sloppy SEO and still do well. Add in the fact that “brands” now have “higher trust”, thanks to the Vince Algorithm change, it makes it all the more important to have solid, core SEO built and implemented onsite.
All this aside, for years owners have been duped, in large part by the SEO community itself, to focus on where you RANK for keywords. And, boy, did they buy in. It consumes them. It perpetuates a never-ending cycle of calls about less-than-business-centric keywords, because they did a search and saw that they went from Position 7 to Position 10. They’re not taking into account the one thing they all got into business for in the first place: to make sales. To pad the bottom-line with profit.
Unlearn Your Obsession With Rank
Yes, that’s right. Stop thinking about it. If you need something to do because it’s a rainy day, or you don’t have meetings, then look at them (and then throw them away). Otherwise, stop it. Instead, focus on if you’re site is converting users to a sale, to a purchase, to an anything, as long as it drives more business through the doors. And, considering, the downward-spiraling economic disaster looming in the coming months, this should be your only focus: get more business coming through the door.
Rank is a luxury. Sales aren’t. Quit wasting your time talking about why a keyword dropped from 3 to 5, and start focusing on if your site is fully-optimized onsite, if your user paths are clean and concise, and if your forms are painless and easy. Once again, in the near-future, everyone’s SERPs are going to be different for the same keyword, based on numerous factors and habits. Make sure you’re focusing on sales and conversions, that’s all that really matters.
Should Site Traffic be the Ultimate Goal?
Ranking is dead,” says Bruce, recalling his words from his presentation. Going forward, he says you’re going to have to look at analytics, measure traffic, bounce rates, action, etc. SEOs will have to ask themselves questions like: – Did I get the conversion I was after? – Did I really deliver on the promise of SEO? Bruce thinks that in the first six months of 2009, we’re going to see a lot more implementation of behavior and intent-based search leading to a mindset of ranking is dead, and traffic is all that matters.
I wrote about this topic in early September this year, and it seems to be finally making it’s way to the mainstream. Do I think that Bruce has got it right? Yes, Bruce got it right: search engine position and rank is dead. However, where I think Bruce is leading SEOs astray is claiming traffic is the new “Google #1″. It most certainly is not.
In Terms of Small Business SEO:
Personalized search (behavior-based search) based of your IP Address, or Google tracking you through your Google Account, is going to make search engine rankings quite irrelevant. Because results will be based on several new factors, not automatically taken into account now: geo-location, types of searches, and previously visited pages, results will now be somewhat tailored to fit those factors.
Will this affect small business SEO? Inherently, yes. A majority of small business owners have trained themselves in the belief that being “#1 in Google” is the only goal that matters. With personalized search, “being #1″ may or may not help; for example:
If a user, let’s say this user is a dentist, and does dental searches all day for information on x-wing bites, a common dental x-ray technique, but is a Star Wars buff. Our dentist can’t remember the name of the rotund guy who flies the x-wing in the original Star Wars. So the dentist types in “fat guy x-wing”. Personalized search is, in all probability, not going to be able to distinguish between a “work” search and “Star Wars” search. Thus, giving the dentist work-related results. (By the way, the fat guy was Porkins).
Trying to explain why being #1 in Google may be irrelevant to small business owners, will not be easy. For years this is all they heard, this is all they know.
A Point of Contention With Bruce Clay
Do I think that Bruce was wrong to say that traffic is the new goal? Absolutely. Traffic, of course is a must have, but should it be the singular goal of the SEO? Absolutely not.
In fact, it’s definitely not the most important benchmark for success. It’s simply a byproduct of success. What is the real measure of success on a website? Goal Conversion. It’s where all SEOs should be focusing themselves. Goal Conversion.
In my opinion traffic is akin to pageviews. You can have a lot of both, but if you aren’t making money, then does anyone really care that you bring in 10,000 unique visitors a day, who view 1,000,000 pages? Definitely not.
We have established, albeit painfully, that the CPM-model for site revenue is non-sustaining. Use the latest tragedy of CPM-Model driven revenue: Boomertowne. A spectacular disaster; simply an awe-inspiring bomb sure to make every not-so-net-savvy entrepreneur think twice before getting on the CPM Train.
This is all to say: traffic, like pageviews, is of a bygone era. The focus has to be on goal conversion: funneling consumers/users to make the purchase, inquire for more information, or contact you.
How To Function As An SEO in the New Personalized Search
1) An SEO must still do the basics:
- Tedious KW research, tedious client research, and tedious competition research.
- Solid Meta-Data (Page Titles, Description, and, yes, a couple of keywords too)
- Site and Page Usability Methodology
Why do all this if Google is going to throw traditional search out the window? Because people are people. Because users have a sixth-sense if a site is spam or not. Because users still read search engine results pages. And, most importantly, Google will not remove these factors from the algorithm. It’s built an empire from making these, and link calculation methods, how relevance is calculated and then displayed.
2) Focus on Goal Conversion
That’s the bottom line: are users converting on the site? Considering the economic disaster at-hand, small business owners probably care less about high traffic numbers, if they’re not making any money. As an SEO, you are not only the traffic bringer’, you’re also the goal conversion expert. (At least you should be. And if you’re not, you need to start learning quickly)
That’s where SEO and SEM are headed: Goal Conversion. It’s more important ever to be cognizant of goal conversion as the goal of SEO.
Why Small Business Should Use Flash Sparingly
It’s about two weeks past the big announcement by Google Webmaster Central Blog about indexing flash on websites. I know, personally, I’ve fought off a rush of designers who wanted to create heavy-laden flash websites because they think it’s “ok now”.
I had to shut down the flood gates quick before everything became just a huge conglomerate of Flash animation. I told them to actually read the blog, not just the headline. Because, if they’d actually read it, they’d know it’s about as vague as vague can be. Moreover, while aesthetics are important, we’re in the business to be found and make our clients found. Flash, like AJAX, is still, as far as I’m concerned, a “website” cloaking device.
Let’s read what Google says their Flash limitations are:
Q: What are the current technical limitations of Google’s ability to index Flash?
There are three main limitations at present, and we are already working on resolving them:
2. We currently do not attach content from external resources that are loaded by your Flash files. If your Flash file loads an HTML file, an XML file, another SWF file, etc., Google will separately index that resource, but it will not yet be considered to be part of the content in your Flash file.
3. While we are able to index Flash in almost all of the languages found on the web, currently there are difficulties with Flash content written in bidirectional languages. Until this is fixed, we will be unable to index Hebrew language or Arabic language content from Flash files.
The third point doesn’t concern me as much because I am just starting to get into the international scene, but the first two are a deal-breaker. And the update Google provided doesn’t do much to reassure me that their Flash techniques in the algorithm are SEO-ready. To get a nice, in-depth blog about why all-flash or heavy flash is not a great idea, check SEOmoz’s blog post by Rand.
I work with smaller business. Most small business have this strange attraction to flash, and up until now, I could never figure out why. But I finally came to a conclusion: larger corps (i.e. Starbucks) use flash like it’s going out of style; it looks great and represents the brand they way these smaller businesses want to represent their brand. The problem is, the smaller business doesn’t have nearly the brand recognition or brand staying power to be able to develop an all-flash or heavy-flash site.
Let’s take the Starbucks example further:
Here’s what the site looks like normally:
Here’s what a search engine sees:
Creating a flash-heavy site for a small business is like putting a Romulan cloaking field around the site, forever hidden from the eyes of the search engine. The object is to be found not to hide. And, even though Google can supposedly index flash, we don’t have much of an idea how they’re temporally conveying the contextual text. The example the blog gives is probably the utopic example, so don’t expect treatment like that.
Still think Flash is good for Small Business?
Flash can be done well, but it rarely is. The conclusion is to use common sense when designing the site. If CSS and HTML can present the nearly the same look and feel as Flash, then go with the CSS. If you absolutely have to use flash or AJAX, then use it as sparingly as possible and stick to the basics.