SEOs, Stay the Course Through Google Algorithm Updates

Any volatility in search results sets off tremors in the search marketing community, for it usually signals a change in the Google algorithm. There have been many significant updates as Google continues to search for how to deliver the best set of results to its users.

Any volatility in search results sets off tremors in the search marketing community, for it usually signals a change in the Google algorithm. There have been many significant updates as Google continues to search for how to deliver the best set of results to its users.

The most recent shift has been dubbed “Valentine’s Day Update.” Many of its predecessors were named Panda, Penguin, Pigeon or, more prosaically, Medic and Fred. Each targets a specific search problem — bad links, duplicate/thin content, aggressive monetization, etc.

A major algorithm change does not roll out across the worldwide search landscape all at once. It may take days or even weeks. Sometimes, webmasters will detect changes before Google acknowledges that an update is occurring or has already occurred. The big question to me has always been: How much attention should I pay to these updates and how should I respond?

Why Google Updates Matter?

Search technology and artificial learning have entered a new age. With the heavy computing power available today, the entire site is used in the ranking algorithm.

Unless an SEO watches the changes and the discussions of what is the intent of each major algorithm change, it is easy to miss how the search ranking process is changing. For those who want to stay well-informed about the future and are of a technical bent, it also pays to read the expert analysis and discussions about recent patents granted to Google. The patents often portend what is in the more distant future.

In short, even if your site is not impacted by a change, it is important to pay attention to what the updates are targeting.

How to Respond to an Algorithm Update?

When an update occurs, it is like a storm has rolled through the search results. Rankings may appear to lurch, as though buffeted by winds as major algorithmic changes spread through the system.

The big storm is usually followed by a period of instability, as the engineers do additional minor tuning of the algorithm.

Once the storm has passed, there is usually a readjustment, as quality sites return to their more accustomed positions. The process winnows out those that are less worthy.

Here is where it gets tricky. If you have a solid site, built and optimized in accordance with best practices, you have little to fear from an update. By monitoring your site’s performance in the Search Console, staying abreast of recommended enhancements, you place yourself out of peril. The real danger is negligence of what is today’s best practice and looking for the easy way to the top rankings. With solid SEO in place, the storm can rage around you. Let the storm pass. Wait 10 to 15 days before making any changes to your SEO tactics. By then, it will be easier to see what the intent of the change was.

If your results don’t return to previous levels in a week or so and your site has in fact been penalized in an update, corrective action taken too soon may actually make the situation more confused.

Once the storm created by the update has passed, then, you should make adjustments, corrections and improvements. Algorithmic updates, while inconvenient, usually improve the search user’s experience and provide SEOs solid guidance.

2016: What Did I Know?

Very early this year, I set down a series of predictions for what we’d see in 2016. Now that the run of the year is mostly behind us, it’s time to find out: What did I know?

Very early this year, I set down a series of predictions for what we’d see in 2016. Now that the run of the year is mostly behind us, it’s time to find out: What did I know?

1. Social media advertising is going to get bigger and bigger. I’m not saying that just because of the size of the networks or the time Americans spend on them. The real tipping point factor here is the ability to target your message to a small audience, and deliver it pretty accurately just to them.

Tribalism is one of the more important factors influencing all media today: People want to see only things they want and/or agree with, and the ability to build a custom social circle that filters news and conversations they’re exposed to reinforces this. To maximize the effectiveness of ads, and minimize the chance for a faux pas turns into a major PR disaster (I’m looking at you, Bloomingdale’s “spiked eggnog” ad), advertisers should be trying to capitalize on those same mechanisms.

The social networks, with their in-platform targeting options, are going to benefit from that development.

Frankly, i think predicting that social media advertising was going to get bigger was basically cheating. Of course it was going to get bigger.

socialmediaadvertisingBut I think I tuned a bit more into my inner Nostradamus with the bit about Tribalism. That played out like a Ocean’s 11 bank heist throughout the course of the 2016 election. It got so bad that fake news out-performed real news across Facebook this year.

Tribalism is a powerful force. People care about reinforcing their beliefs so much that it far outweighs facts or proof. With that in mind, I’m starting to wonder what marketing could look like in what you might call a “post-truth world.”

2. More marketers are going to use personas, they’re going to use more of them, and they’re going to get more sophisticated. Again, this is about targeting and understanding your audience. As marketers move further away from campaign-based strategies and deeper into personalized, ongoing marketing, the ability to optimize ads, offers, landing pages and whole websites to a segment of your audience is essential to successful execution.

The growth of individual-level data for targeting and personalization isn’t going to replace the need to do a lot of strategizing and optimization at a segment level (i.e., personas). The ability to build useful personas, include more factors in them (especially behavioral factors), and use those insights to boost ROI is going to be a major factor in the success of online marketing.

I think I might have been behind the state of the art on this one. Personas are important to marketing, but I feel like the growth area has really been on moving beyond personas and using machine learning to do things like find look-alikes or identify buying behaviors.

3. Google updates are going to cause less chaos. Google’s aim in refining its algorithms has become pretty clear: Google wants to give searchers what they want. If you deliver web pages that satisfy the person who entered that search query, you’re likely to continue to do well with Google. If you’re manipulating your site to get more SEO traction, you’re likely to take a hit at some point in the future.

Don’t aim for where Google is today, aim for where it’s going: Make search visitors happy.

I haven’t had to describe what i mean by the term “Google Ball” all year (a reference to “Calvin Ball” from Calvin and Hobbes, where Calvin changes the rules every time to suit him), so I think this one worked out pretty well. AMP is a big deal, of course, and page load speed in general has been emphasized, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything as disruptive as Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird.

Google is big business now, and unpredictability is bad for big businesses. I think Google is trying to shed its reputation for volatile rules changes and give website owners a more stable rules set they can count on.

4. You’re going to see more brand marketing in online direct marketing spaces. This ties into No. 1 a little bit, too. From banner ads to email and content marketing, a lot of online marketing evolved around direct marketing tactics and the call to action. I think you’re going to see more of that online marketing done as a way to promote brand content that in the past would have become a TV ad spot. The Ford In Focus videos Melissa talked about yesterday are a part of this trend. So is Red Bull’s content marketing.

This is a recognition of the content marketing fact that you need to earn time with your audience by giving them something they want to watch instead of constantly interrupting them. These types of content could have smaller audiences online, but they’re getting much more attention from the audiences they do attract. And the content can be targeted to those audiences can be targeted more effectively.

In essence, target marketing is becoming more important, even if it’s a little less direct than it used to be.

Every year, it gets harder to draw a line where direct marketing ends and brand marketing begins. But I don’t think the branding role has significantly moved online or displaced CTA-focused online ads.

The exception to that doesn’t come in the online ad space, but in the continued growth in content marketing and targeted distribution of that content.

So there’s my moment of accountability for 2016! How do you think I did? Are those predictions pretty much in line with what you saw? Are they what you expect to see in 2017? Let me know in the comments.

Thorin’s Marketing Predictions for 2016

It feels like I’ve been talking a lot about the future of marketing lately, and January is an ideal time to take stock of some of the topics that keep coming up in those conversations and speculate a bit on what they mean for the year ahead.

Crystal BallIt feels like I’ve been talking a lot about the future of marketing lately (perhaps because I’m in the middle of analyzing the results of our 2016 Media Usage Forecast). January is an ideal time to take stock of some of the topics that keep coming up in those conversations and make some predictions about what they mean for the year ahead.

1. Social media advertising is going to get bigger and bigger. I’m not saying that just because of the size of the networks or the time Americans spend on them. The real tipping point factor here is the ability to target your message to a small audience, and deliver it pretty accurately just to them.

Tribalism is one of the more important factors influencing all media today: People want to see only things they want and/or agree with, and the ability to build a custom social circle that filters news and conversations they’re exposed to reinforces this. To maximize the effectiveness of ads, and minimize the chance for a faux pas turns into a major PR disaster (I’m looking at you, Bloomingdale’s “spiked eggnog” ad), advertisers should be trying to capitalize on those same mechanisms.

The social networks, with their in-platform targeting options, are going to benefit from that development.

2. More marketers are going to use personas, they’re going to use more of them, and they’re going to get more sophisticated. Again, this is about targeting and understanding your audience. As marketers move further away from campaign-based strategies and deeper into personalized, ongoing marketing, the ability to optimize ads, offers, landing pages and whole websites to a segment of your audience is essential to successful execution.

The growth of individual-level data for targeting and personalization isn’t going to replace the need to do a lot of strategizing and optimization at a segment level (i.e., personas). The ability to build useful personas, include more factors in them (especially behavioral factors), and use those insights to boost ROI is going to be a major factor in the success of online marketing.

3. Google updates are going to cause less chaos. Google’s aim in refining its algorithms has become pretty clear: Google wants to give searchers what they want. If you deliver web pages that satisfy the person who entered that search query, you’re likely to continue to do well with Google. If you’re manipulating your site to get more SEO traction, you’re likely to take a hit at some point in the future.

Don’t aim for where Google is today, aim for where it’s going: Make search visitors happy.

4. You’re going to see more brand marketing in online direct marketing spaces. This ties into No. 1 a little bit, too. From banner ads to email and content marketing, a lot of online marketing evolved around direct marketing tactics and the call to action. I think you’re going to see more of that online marketing done as a way to promote brand content that in the past would have become a TV ad spot. The Ford In Focus videos Melissa talked about yesterday are a part of this trend. So is Red Bull’s content marketing.

This is a recognition of the content marketing fact that you need to earn time with your audience by giving them something they want to watch instead of constantly interrupting them. These types of content could have smaller audiences online, but they’re getting much more attention from the audiences they do attract. And the content can be targeted to those audiences can be targeted more effectively.

In essence, target marketing is becoming more important, even if it’s a little less direct than it used to be.