Topic: Google’s incorporation of social and personal content to the SERP
Opportunity: Achieve prominent search visibility through Google+ presence
Channels Impacted: Organic search, paid search, social
Google recently began rolling out its new “Search, Plus Your World” features to the search engine results page (SERP). The update introduced two new features that significantly impact paid search marketing and SEO:
- People and Pages: The SERP now prominently features the Google+ Pages of both people and brands—for branded and generic queries—even when the searcher isn’t logged in
- Personal Results: When logged in, the Google SERP now shows the searcher’s personal photos and posts from Google+ and Picasa. Personal results include the searcher’s own content, as well as content shared with the searcher. This new content is exclusive to the searcher, so everyone’s SERP is different.
People and Pages: Search Implications
Since Google+ Pages for Businesses launched, we’ve advocated that having a branded Google+ Page is essential for your search campaigns (see Why Your Brand Needs a Google+ Business Page Now). We noted that the primary reason to create a Google+ Page was to aid your SEO efforts. For instance, social content from brands is increasing achieving prominent visibility on the Google SERP, especially for branded searches. We told brands to expect to see their Google+ Business Pages in the top organic results for branded keywords very soon. What we didn’t expect was the prominence that Google would give Google+ Business Pages. For instance, the below search for “fashion” gives H&M’s Google+ Page visibility equivalent to a position-1 paid-search bid, even when the searcher is not signed in:
Because of H&M’s presence on Google+—and Google’s desire to promote Google+ Pages—H&M is essentially ranking number one for the “fashion” keyword without paying for a paid search ad or having the SEO chops to rank in the first-page organic results (H&M actually ranks on page three in organic search for “fashion”). If H&M didn’t have a Google+ Page, it wouldn’t have achieved this visibility. Additionally, as you can see, H&M's Google+ Page is in 240,000+ “Circles”, which is a signal to Google that the Page has a great deal of influence. Every brand must take advantage of this potential opportunity:
- Create a Google+ Page and use generic keywords in your Page’s “About” section. For instance, H&M’s About section says, “Fashion and quality at the best price.” Google seems to be giving Google+ SERP prominence to broad, content-driven keywords (like “fashion”) that aren’t monetizable for Google in paid search. Perform keyword research to uncover these types of keywords, and optimize your Google+ Page for them. Focus on getting Google+ users to add your Page to their Circles, as follower volume also seems to influence SERP visibilty. This will increase the likelihood that you’ll achieve “free” SERP visibility, like H&M has for the “fashion” query.
- With this update, Google is integrating its own social content into the SERP. This means that your social team must join with your SEO team to continually curate Google+ content (content that may prominently show on the SERP) and gain followers. Where are the keyword opportunities? What is your message? The bottom line is that—because your Google+ content will appear on the SERP—anything you do on Google+ must be consistent with your overall search marketing strategy. SEO thus becomes content marketing. In the short term, as Google+ seeks to add more active users, these updates may not impact your SEO strategy. But if tens of millions of people start sharing their search results, adding brand pages to their Google+ circles, and actively using +1 buttons to promote content, sites that aspire to high SEO visibility should spend as much time engaging their users through social as they do through SEO.
Not surprisingly, Google has come under fire for giving such prominence to Google+ Pages, perhaps at the expense of Google+’s competitors, mainly Twitter and Facebook. A Twitter executive tweeted that “search [was] being warped” because Google was not being objective. Pundits debated on whether Google was favoring Google+, and Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, responded that Search Plus Your World “can surface public content from sites across the web such as Quora, FriendFeed, LiveJournal, Twitter, and WordPress,” not just Google+ and Picasa. If searchers start to think that Google’s search results are bias, this could become a problem for Google and potentially impact its market share. Google’s challenge is balancing searcher needs with its own business goals of growing Google+’s traffic and user base.
Personal Results: Search Implications
In addition to People and Pages, Search Plus Your World enables searchers to find both private content shared by friends and overall web content via a single search. In the below example, provided by Google, the searcher queried “chikoo,” which is both a type of tree and the name of the searcher’s dog. The SERP provides results that only that particular searcher can see—a mix of web results pertaining to the tree, results from the searcher’s Google+ friends (called “personal results”) and pictures of the searcher’s dog (some shared to him and some his own):
Because the SERP now pulls in these personal results, over time, it will become vastly different for every user. The SERP will become as personal as users let it, based on how comfortable they are from a privacy standpoint. This highly-personalized and social SERP complicates search marketing. On the personal-social SERP, prominent visibility often depends on whether your customers are participating with your brand. For instance, if people are chatting about your brand on Google+ or sharing your brand’s social content, your brand is more likely to appear on the personal-social SERP. And those search results will be perceived as more relevant—thus more clickable—because the searcher sees that his or her friends have influenced the results. The personal-social SERP enables searchers to break through the clutter of the entire Web and focus on what their friends think. Each searcher’s friends thus wield great influence over your brand’s search marketing efforts. Search marketing is becoming a mutual investment between your brand and your customers, and search visibility often depends on encouraging your participants to advocate for your brand. Brands must:
- Identify and encourage brand influencers to start positive social conversations about their products/services
- Respond to customer gripes before negative conversations make their way to the SERP
When Google+ launched, Search Plus Your World was inevitable. Social networking has revolutionized how people discover brands, research products, obtain product advice and make purchases. In order to stay relevant, search engines must continually incorporate this valuable social content. Search Plus Your World is a big step in that direction, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The personal-social SERP will certainly continue to evolve; and—as it does—so will search engine marketing.