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Yahoo Axis and SEO

Yahoo! Axis is the new browser plugin by Yahoo! which allows people to once again “browse” the web in a visual interface.

My initial thoughts on the interface:

  • It is fast! It is also much more intuitive to use than Bing’s Social Search or So.Cl products.
  • It is a glorified toolbar in some respects. It is attached to the browser which is a great distribution strategy since it works with the major browsers. Any decent toolbar developer with a Yahoo feed could potentially replicate this quite quickly.
  • Ads are either not present or they are very well hidden. I can’t help but think this will not drive more revenue for Yahoo.
  • The flip side of the ads argument is that this tool allows you to stay on your favorite site and search at the same time. So essentially the display ads on the main site still maintain a lot of value since the impressions are much longer now.
  • This is a huge boost for sites like Facebook. Bing should have really done something like this instead of trying to get people to Bing.com. Given that people spend hours and hours on Facebook a day, allowing them to really get true search results while never leaving their “ecosystem” is huge.
  • The touch interface works well with a Mac and iPad but PCs without multi-touch support may not get all the benefits of the simpler UI.
  • Images are an interesting way to browse the web, but when it is not fashion or recipe related, the value of an image is greatly reduced. Just seeing a snapshot of a webpage doesn’t help me know if I should be going to that page.
  • There is not much in the way of social integration.
  • I couldn’t get any video results or image results to appear when searching for things like “lamborghini aventador video” or “lamborghini wallpaper” This seems to be ignoring a large portion of the web.
  • Location at the bottom of the screen is “thumb friendly” for tablet devices.

How does Yahoo Axis affect SEO?

From a technical standpoint, it doesn’t change anything in SEO since the search results are largely served by Bing.

However, from a consumer standpoint, the ranking is not hierarchical anymore. It is horizontal indicating a slightly more egalitarian structure. Subliminally if things are placed horizontally most humans will think they are of equal importance. This is very counter intuitive to Google’s vertical ranking which indicates the one at the top is the most relevant.

Another major point from a laymen consumer is that now your site is largely being chosen based on an image block. Most informational websites are designed around text and navigational elements. For example, if you run a company that provides mortuary services, would you put an amazing photo of a dead person or a fancy casket on your home page? Would this image establish the site as an authority and sway the browswer’s opinion in any way? In other words, would this image get me a click?

This is an extreme example but the reality is that many things can not be conveyed in images. Company logos are a great way of creating trust through branding but Yahoo’s interface focuses on a webpage rather than a logo. Most people don’t associate any brand notions with your webpage especially if they have never heard of you nor interacted with you.

Yahoo! is trying to push the web back to 1999 when we were largely “browsing” or “surfing” versus searching in the mid 2000’s. Visual search is being driven by sites like Pinterest but the content it caters to is inherently a subset of the entire internet. Without support of multi-media searches, the Axis tool seems somewhat of a mobiel accessible toolbar and that is not a huge value generator for the consumer. This tool is really focused on publishers keep their users in one place for the majority of the day.

I think Axis has the bones to become a great tool, but this version is not something I will use.

 

Google Attacks Head Terms through Semantic Search

The Wall Street Journal announced that Google will be updating their search algorithm in the coming weeks/months.

There are some important changes that could affect the lead generation industry that you should know about.

First, what is “Semantic Search?”

Semantic search is basically understanding the context in which you ask a question. This is how Siri for iOS works also.

Example – Lets say if you are talking to your friend about a future trip to Las Vegas. Your friend already knows you love good steaks, so the first thing out of their mouth is “you must check out this steak restaurant at the Palazzo!”

The semantic aspect of this is that your friend has known you for years and knows your likes, dislikes and your budget potentially. They use their own experience to quickly rattle off a handful of things you can do in Las Vegas.

Implications in search.

Most likely you are not having a conversation with your Google page. You enter in short search queries in hopes of researching various topics. EG – “Things to do in Vegas.”

With the new search algorithm Google may recommend a list of things to do and may push down other organic results. It may also determine that a restaurant ad is more relevant to you rather than a flight advertisement.

How does this work?

Google being Google does not release much detail but they say it is based on “attributes” from your personal search history, various websites and other common searches. Google is trying to become skynet in someways.

Why is Google doing this?

Lots of reasons!

  • Google is battling Facebook. They know Facebook’s search is horrible. Most people still need to get info from Google. By making search potentially more context based, it may increase usage of sites like Google+ (this is a really convoluted way to get more users)
  • This user flow is really tailored towards mobile users. Making Google a 1 page website and offering multiple types of results for one search is key to increasing user interaction.
  • This user flow is also great for a voice based mobile device. Imagine calling Google and getting this information read to you? At the end of the call it will ask you to connect to X advertiser. Return of the click to call lead gen model!
  • SEO has created a sea of garbage websites. Google knows no one goes past page one of the search results. Making page 1 more relevant is key for them long term. Creating content for Google via SEO and not users is counter -intuitive long term. They are hoping this allows them to be more useful. Creating a pivot this large is pretty scary. It is like transitioning everyone on Earth from gas to electric cars. You have already built a huge infrastructure around gas, the switching cost is pretty high.

What does this mean for lead generation?

Google is no longer agnostic. They are your competitor and friend at the same time.

Head terms are going to be affected the most. In the WSJ article an early alpha tester said it could change up to 20% of your search traffic. This is huge.

It is hard to say if this is going to affect long tail terms in the short term but if the system learns fast enough, this should have an equal affect for head and long tail terms.

From a PPC perspective, it should technically drop the number of impressions you get. It should technically increase your CTR if your ads are highly targeted. From a conversion perspective, it really comes down to how your ad groups are structured. If they have specific term groups but general landing pages there is an argument to be made that your C2C will actually drop, but that is not a new statement.

What will be the effect on Google’s stock price?

In the short term I can see this potentially lowering revenue. If such a massive portion of your revenue comes from advertising and linking to your index, presenting information before the click should technically reduce revenue.  In the short term I would say there is a dip in their stock price and long term I could see massive growth based on the mobile usage. Most likely analysts will jump on this and push the stock lower to create a lucrative short environment knowing full well that the long term is positive.

This is assuming that they don’t launch any new revenue models like the “speak to connect” ad model. Given that mobile usage of Google is increasing fast, the attention should be really on how can you get in front a mobile user with semantic search. Without knowing more about Google’s Semantic Search, it will be hard to recommend anything at the moment. I strongly suggest contacting your Google Rep for more info.

Thoughts? Comments? If you have an inside line to Google what are you asking them?

Google+ Your World + Online Advertising

If you are in the online advertising industry you will want to read this.

And when I say online advertising, I mean if you have any work involving SEO, SEM, SMM, YouTube, Facebook, Bing etc… The recent change by Google really impacts alot of us.

If you want to skip the examples and find out what you should do as an advertiser click here.

If you want to skip to the summary click here.

What did Google just change?

Google integrated social results from their Google+ network into regular search results on Google.com for people signed in. This is not your usual algorithm update. This doesn’t really change how they rank you but what else they might show before an old school SEO ranking.

What did this change really do?

If you are signed in, it has changed the whole meaning of SEO. Google’s concept of a ultra deep index is quickly being destroyed. They are trying to give you one page which has versions based on who you are associated with. Here is a quick example of Google + world in action.  As you can see in the video – the results from Google+ are not well organized at all. I think I would be frustrated by the random organization for certain searches. I could see this working well for seeing what videos your friends are watching. Eg – That Rebecca Black video…

Here is what has changed from what I can observe. Note Google is rolling out the features over the next few days, so things may continue to change.

Top things that changed:

1) Ads on branded terms have been reduced in many instances. Many product ads now showcase pictures. If you search for Ipod. you will get a graphic like this in your search results.

2) Mentions of terms by friends in your Google Circles can change page 1 results completely. Google+/Circle results now show like a news feed.

3) It looks like the right column is now widened significantly. You will now see maps on the right and youtube links.

4) Generic terms like “insurance” “online education” don’t seem to be affected just yet. This is partially because many lead gen players have not created Google+ pages with their brand name or key terms.

5) The Google mobile search results are different too since most mobile users are signed in. (Screenshots on AbsoluteVariety.com)

6) Twitter results are no longer part of the index.

7) The number of search ads shown when you are signed in may be greatly reduced due to all the new types of content being shown in the search results.

8) CTRs of text based search ads may drop since there are so many images / different types of content on a search page now. Text ads easily get lost.

9) Search ads can be interactive now. See the REI example on AbsoluteVariety.com. This looks like a feature isolated to products that can be reviewed on Google Products.

10) Being on Page 2 of Google now is completely useless.

I did a few sample searches signed in on Google. Here are the videos:

H&M – considered to be one of the largest brand pages on Google+. This is a good example of a brand that is interacting with people on Google+ but doesn’t offer them a way to purchase anything.

Ford – Another large brand on Google+ now has its organic results greatly modified. Ads are pushed down on the page and a Map/Google+ pages are more prominent.

Here is a quick example of how the new Google+ results show up on an Android phone. As you can see there are still some bugs to be worked out with Google+ and how they have constructed their URLs. This is for the same search term “ford.”

Next up is an example of a local school listing for Grand Canyon University Phoenix. They have registered a place location, listed a phone number and have reviews. It seems like they do not have a Google+ page yet though.  Key takeaway from this video is to list an inbound lead gen phone number on your Google Places page along with a regular phone number if possible. Keep in mind not everyone wants to be sold something if they are calling a school…

 

What should I do if I am advertising online?

1) Set up a Google+ Brand page – Tutorial is here 
Official business sign up for Google+ is here 
key with building a Brand page is to make your profile as complete as possible. Pictures, Videos, Tags, Descriptions, Locations etc. All must be filled in.

Note – Vanity URLs in Google do not exist yet.

Consider this page on Google “social insurance” just in case Google + starts taking off and people start using both Facebook and Google+ regularly.

2) Ask people to +1 your page or posts. Make sure you +1 your own content when it is published.

3) Audit your search accounts. You may need to implement a more aggressive search strategy to stay in the top 3 spots. Also check impression volume over the next week or so.

4) Start using Google+ regularly to get familiar with the interface.

5) Talk to your Google rep. Ask them to be part of any beta product they offer.

6) Physical campuses should be listed in Google Places and rated if possible. EG – Search for your school brand in your city or where a campus might be. Examples on AbsoluteVariety.com.

7) Find universal connectors to help distribute your brand. Celebrities are a great way to do this. They have massive followings. You want to be friends with the popular kid. Welcome back to 8th grade….

8) Make sure all of your ALT tags on images and videos are updated with brand oriented keywords.

9) Fact remains – Facebook dominates the social space. Take the Google+ talk with a grain of salt. I suspect that people still spend more time on Facebook than they do on Google. From a cost benefit point of view, Facebook is still a better use of resources. However, plan for the future, especially mobile since Android is growing rapidly.

10) Create content that is truly shareable and high quality. Make sure to ask people to share the content at the end of each article/video/form etc.

11) Stay tuned, I am sure as the weeks go by there will be more info on how this change affects all of us.

12) Last but not least – always include a link or CTA in each post. Check out this example from H&M.

Summary

 
I think Google has made a good attempt at changing what search means. The reality is that the old model didn’t make sense anymore. People don’t want 2 billion results. They want to know what their friends are doing and know what the general public thinks of a topic first.

However, I think this change blocks out key data from sites like Facebook, Twitter, and other “authority” sites which heavily skews the results which you see. If none of your friends are on Google+ this has virtually no effect on you. You are not getting any of the benefits.  This does not give you a realistic view on what the world thinks since not everyone is on Google+.

If you are a company running paid search campaigns, your CTRs will start change simply because your ads are not as prominent and may not be verified by a friend in your circle.

The other downside of this change is that if the search ads are so heavily compressed or moved down on the page, Google’s revenues will start to move in the wrong direction. I suspect that this change will not go away but it will be iterated upon. There will be new ad units and new cost per click models based on the results presented.

The other part of this equation is that in the next few years, people will be doing more voice searches via technologies like Siri. This move towards voice will also require a massive change in terms of UI for Google. I think Google is moving much faster with their new leadership but without the critical mass in Google+ alot of this new strategy could work against them.

Keep an eye on the following in the next 6 months:

1) Voice search

2) TV search

3) Facebook potentially revamping their search engine.

4) True growth of the Google+ user base.

5) Ipad 3 & Apple TV.

All have major implications on Google.