As the biggest and most powerful search engine, what Google says goes. So when Google changes something like its Blogger Guidelines users feel the impact of that move very quickly. Their most recent change centres on how brands and agencies engage with influencers. If you are a blogger, media owner, brand-marketing manager, digital agency employee, then you need to know what has changed and how it could affect your SEO ranking.

Link Wars

Google has been waging a war on link building for some time and has already unleashed a number of weapons to combat ‘unnatural linking’. These weapons have taken many forms over the past 5-6 years, including manual action penalties and the Penguin updates, so Google can clamp down on any paid for, unnatural, link building.
Now Google criteria for what constitutes an unnatural link has altered further to include even more than the vetoing of an exchange of money for a link. Guidelines now state that the following can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results. The Guidelines forbid, ‘Buying or selling links that pass PageRank’.  This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link. Therefore brands and agencies that look to approach bloggers or media owners with a gift, service or a product to review will be in breach of Google guidelines unless the post is flagged-up as sponsored and any links within the content is ‘nofollowed’.
No follow tags need to be used where appropriate including in reviews where bloggers are ‘paid’ with products. This includes links to social media accounts and app store as well as their websites. Disclosure is now even more important and bloggers are encouraged to clearly state they are getting a product free or are being paid for a review.

What This Means For Bloggers

Bloggers will be most affected by this change. For years brands and agencies have reached out to bloggers with gadgets and goodies to compel the blogger to review the product on their site with the idea that the blogger would respond by linking to the product or brand, which would assist in SEO performance. This transaction supported both parties: not only would it supply the blogger with content and free stuff, they would supply the brand with links that were potential leads or customers.
Now, if you are a blogger who is approached by a brand or agency with a product, you can review it but you must:

  • State in the copy that the post is supported/sponsored/in collaboration with the brand in question
  • Nofollow any link to the brand
  • Make sure that your content is unique and not copied from the brochure

As Google will most likely add this change in guidelines to their algorithm and not just their manual review process, bloggers should review old posts and all supported content should be disclosed to avoid incurring Google’s wrath.
Head of Social at Organic, Marisa Thomas, said, ‘Really Google’s blogger guidelines serve to support standards that are already in place. The US advertising watchdog recently rebuked a fashion firm for their Instagram influencers not sufficiently signposting their reviews as commercially motivated. There’s a very real possibility of brands flouting advertising rules if they don’t comply with Google’s guidelines, which is never good for business.’

What This Means for Webmasters/Owners/Agencies

The effect this change will have on business will depend on what you’re looking to get from your engagement with bloggers. If you seek to increase traffic, brand awareness and general coverage for a product or service, then contacting influential bloggers is still going to be a great way to achieve your KPIs, but there are some elements you’ll need to make sure your influencer includes:

  • Disclosure of your relationship with the blogger
  • Nofollow any links to you/your client

If you have been using ‘free’ products as a way of building SEO links for your brand or client, then this new change is much more of an issue. If you are to follow Google’s guidelines, then the tactic of giving a product for a link/post is no longer one that can be used for SEO. With the blogger having to Nofollow the link, there will no longer be any authority flowed through to your site to help authenticate your SEO.

So how can brands generate authentic links?

Outreach is changing and your strategy needs to change too. Instant results are hard to achieve, so investing in social media and blogger outreach to get your content seen by more people may be the next best ethical way to try and earns links.
While this approach works in theory your content has to be worthwhile to encourage ‘natural’ links and garner the right exposure. Quality trumps quantity but also raises the greater issue around measurement and time frames in which you can expect to see results, which remains the ongoing SEO/social challenge.
The question, then, is how else can brands reach influencers authentically? David Tapp, Head of SEO at Organic, says, ‘Undoubtedly this development will force brands to consider content first to gain natural links to their sites rather than depending upon techniques to compel links. Strategies for accessing targeted influencers might include using social ads to lead them ‘organically’ to your product for review’.

How Organic approaches outreach

At Organic we take a user-first approach to all outreach. We provide analysis of our clients’ audience by accurately identifying the types of content they engage with and share. This allows us to build links naturally by creating high-quality content, interactive widgets, videos and more, that the user will genuinely want to share. Content takes the shape of anything that will resonate with and emotionally engage targeted users. We can evidence great results across a rich variety of clients through content such as quizzes, competitions and other interactive content.
It is inspiring, imaginative, creative and evergreen ideas that are richly supported by PR and social media that compels influencers to authentically engage with products. We are confident that with authentic and captivating content there is very little requirement for artifice and in this way we continue to respond with agility to whatever Google sends our way.

Facing Forward

Whatever happened to that nice simple list of ten links to HTML web pages that used to be the friendly recognisable face of Google and nearly every other search engine? In reality it has been gone a long time, but in 2016 the one thing you can be sure of is more change.
When presenting relevant answers to users’ search requests in Google, modern Search Engine Ranking Pages (SERPs) use Universal Search to rank the entire digital universe. This search includes a range of content types such as tweets, images, videos, content snippets, knowledge graphs, blogs, news, The Local Pack, Google Merchant Centre, Adwords and Google Street View, as well as the more traditional yet semantically sophisticated keyword search results.
A simple search for a brand as ubiquitous as Tesco returns a page rich with a variety of content types: maps and contact details for locals stores, the latest tweets, company information, breaking news about the brand – oh and 4 HTML page links – two of those being to Wikipedia and Facebook. HTML web pages on the brand site account for only one listing on the page – the second being the Tesco PLC corporate website for shareholders.
Brands like Tesco, for which thousands of people search for specific information daily, need to make use of a multi-channel, media-rich approach to search strategy, having shifted the emphasis away from relying on HTML web pages and instead drawing upon all other types of searchable content. By doing this brands have greater opportunity to achieve both page 1 visibility and increase their ‘real estate’ visibility on that page. But that doesn’t mean your website is irrelevant – far from it: brands that focus exclusively on digital marketing strategies undermine themselves if their websites provides a poor user experience.

Everything is Integrated

There has been a watershed in how brands need to approach search strategy, driven by a significant shift in how users access the information they are looking for and the variety of information they expect. For brands, a successful search strategy means:
The Google SERPs are often the ultimate destination for the user, with no real need for them to click away from the Google advertising platform.
On Facebook and other social channels an in-platform journey will meet more of the users’ needs, with many eventually offering the option to purchase in-channel.
On your mobile phone and other devices, in-app search, widgets and rich push messaging means mobile users won’t even need to open the app to access the required information.
Already the majority of time users spend online is spent on a tiny proportion of websites, which raises the question of whether many destination websites (other than those of the biggest brands) are going to be necessary at all.

Interactions are Changing

It was not very long ago, that brands could expect users to Google a term, like ‘Tesco’ and they would be met with the aforementioned list of links. Search the same term today and users encounter rich data to help them to modify the specifics of their search and direct them to the right destination.
A search for ‘Tesco’ yields a wealth of information in a variety of platforms on a desktop A search for ‘Tesco’ on the mobile immediately invites users to install the app, via PPC
 
In this example, users encounter a wealth of data, making Google SERPs the destination page, with data pulled from a third party database and rendering the brand’s HTML front-end website to some extent less significant. With info-hunters’ ever-increasing use of mobile phones, search pages have transitioned to offer opportunities for users to access real-time, localised, media-rich content via fully-optimised apps. Users searching for ‘Tesco’ using their mobile will encounter a screen inviting them to install the app. The user’s location is also immediately identified and the nearest stores located on a map. There is very little need for them to engage at all with the company’s website.

Ever-evolving Relevance

Google knows how estranging large amounts of text data can be, but it also recognises our need for the right information, instantly. A consistent look, feel and layout to that data in one familiar platform like Google makes it more accessible to users. It also lets them sell more ad impressions.
Brands cannot ignore this. Websites will continue to be critical, but publishing approaches and forms of data feeds will continue to grow in importance.
Some of the features that allow brands to direct users quickly to what they’re looking for and a wider variety of relevance include:
Real time info
Current information is listed in response to a user’s query. Push notifications, however, supply relevant, timely, personalised information directly to the mobile, assisting in the real-time accessing of information.
Media rich
Users can access information in various ways from maps to videos, to Youtube channels and other social platforms.
Local data
The information is precise and tailored to your locality. Even without the addition of the location in the search, Google assesses the likely geographical area for the search and supplies the relevant information in the Local Three Stack data, (which is helpful due to the abundance of local Tesco stores near this particular search).
Social channels
Here the search results offer a variety of profiles so users can access Tesco, in this example, via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google+ at the tap of an icon.
Image support
Images such as recipes featured on Twitter, further augment the user search experience.
Relevant news
Half a scroll down will display the latest news, privileging the most recent.
The knowledge graph
The knowledge graph at the top right of the results page now has an API, which means data can be pulled on competing brands, and brands can find out how best to optimise their own knowledge graph content.

Helping users; helping yourself

By integrating all the information the user might need to make an informed decision, SERPs work hard to assist the user along their journey.
Brands that recognise the importance of optimising all apps and social channels are the ones who will find users engaging most meaningfully with search results pages, thereby facilitating the brand’s natural real estate ownership on the SERP.
Google is continually refining its algorithm to provide the most relevant results, but keeping up to date with these changes isn’t about knowing the latest algorithm, rather it’s about anticipating what’s coming – like the rise of the app – and ensuring your strategy is future-proofed to handle it.
For big brands search optimisation of the HTML website continues to be fundamental to success, but if yours isn’t one of the top names it’s worth thinking about whether your website or app will remain as important in the future as it is right now.

Well, what AdWords tells you your conversion rate is, is about to drop. Your actual conversion rate may well be going up – if it’s not, feel free to give one of our CRO experts a call. Currently conversions are conversions. Whether a click or page visit, any completed conversion action shows in the AdWords Conversions column. With the only variable being whether the conversion is unique per-session or can be converted multiple times. As of mid-October Google is changing the definition of a conversion and, with that, which of your goals will show under conversions. From this point ONLY conversion actions with Optimisation turned on will be counted towards the number of conversions shown in the Conversion column of your AdWords account.

What Does This Mean?

Potentially, depending on your account setup, this change is going to manifest as a sudden drop in your conversion rates. Not because you’re not achieving the same rate of conversions, but because not all conversions will count as a ‘conversion’.
The conversion value in the Conversions column will no longer be equal to your actual conversions. It will be equal to the number of conversions achieved by those goals that are set as eligible for inclusion in optimise for conversions.
This being said, AdWords is introducing a new All Conversions column that will replace Estimated Total Conversions.
The All Conversions column will, as logic suggests, include all conversions regardless of their optimisation setting. This metric will also include cross-device conversions; those which previously appeared under Estimated Cross-Device Conversions and that will now be shown under a new Cross-Device Conversions column.
This can be visualised as below:
blog_img1

What Should You Do?

If you don’t currently use conversions for bid management, rules, filters or scripts then simply check the box to include your conversions in optimisation. This ensures they are still counted towards AdWords new definition of ‘conversion’. You can do this under ‘Tools’ > ‘Conversions’ > select the conversion action > ‘Edit Settings’ > ‘Optimisation’. blog_img2 blog_img3 blog_img4
Your conversion data will now include conversions for all conversion actions – just remember to add this setting for any conversions added in the future.
If you do have bid adjustment rules or other filters and scripts based on conversions, they are going to need checking to ensure they still operate as expected after the migration.
Rules that reference ‘Conv. (opt.)’ will need updating to reference the new Conversions column. And anything referencing ‘Est. Total Conv.’ can be updated to the new All Conversions.
If you reference the current conversion column then things get trickier and potentially a work-around will need to be found as there will be no direct replacement for this column. How, or if, a work-around can be implemented is yet to be seen; especially as it will likely involve referencing the Cross-Device Conversion column which is not know for providing accurate data.
Google is constantly changing and refining its approach, so to keep up and not see your efforts suffer you’ve got to change with them. Not sure how? We can help you out with that, so get in touch.

Google's European Melodrama

     

google

The tech giant Google has had it share of headlines in recent weeks. From an escalated antitrust investigation by the European Union, to a massive shift in its mobile search algorithm, and most recently, the establishment of a fund to help online news publishers, Google has been dominating recent digital conversations across the UK and the continent. Questions linger about whether any of it will negatively affect the US-based company. What is clear, Google is continuing to react to changes in the marketplace, and they are continuing to set the agenda for most others to follow.

An unfair playing field

Announced a couple of weeks ago, the European parliament is expected to call for a break-up of Google’s control of European web searches. There has been a long-running antitrust case against the tech giant by the EU and it seems to be reaching a head. According to media sources, there may be “unbundling [of] search engines from other commercial services” as a potential solution to ending Google’s control of the local search engine markets. Google has tried – at least three times – to settle the case with the EU, but their offers have been re-buffed. The parliamentary group have been investigating Google after complaints it has abused its dominant position since 2010. In September, the EU’s incoming digital commissioner Günther Oettinger, said he believed any settlement with Google could “cement its strength in the market rather than diluting it”. Most recently, government leaders have enacted “right to be forgotten” legislation allowing people to delete their information from Google search results.

EU map

“Mobile-geddon!”

Last week Google released some changes to their search algorithms, all supposedly designed to increase the visibility of mobile searches. Google mobile search results will no longer display a website’s URL. Now, search results will include a more reader-friendly site description. But a week after the change’s release, in European searches especially, the effect of the change has yet to make waves according to most SEO experts. Google has announced a change to its mobile search algorithms to include the real-world name of a website rather than the domain name. Mobile search results will also include a “breadcrumbs-like format” for the URL structure of the site. They hope the change will allow searchers on mobile devices to get a better understanding of the results in a limited, mobile space. The domain name change feature is only affecting US searches at the moment, but Google has plans to roll out breadcrumbs worldwide. There is the potential for this change to impact millions of sites, much more than Google’s last major search ranking algorithm updates, Google Panda and Penguin.

Starting in 2011, the changes in search parameters have been updated several times, and it is estimated that 12% of all sites that Google rated to have low quality have been affected.As the mobile algorithm change is still rolling out, it is impossible to determine just how many sites will be affected. Recent Forrester Research estimated almost four out of 10 of all large brand websites — businesses with 1,000 or more employees — do not meet Google’s criteria.

A possible olive branch

This week, Google may be attempting to placate certain parts of their opposition by announcing a partnership with a group that criticised their apparent monopoly in the past. Google is now working with eight news outlets (including the UK’s Financial Times and Guardian) to develop publisher-friendly products and create a €150 million (£109 million) “innovation fund.” News organisations have complained in the past that Google search results often give away too much of a story allowing users to get details without having to click. There are critics to the plan, however. Only big players in the industry are included in the collaboration, not independent, smaller digital news services. And many believe offering money instead of real change may be no solution at all. And, ultimately, it may do nothing to sway the minds of European antitrust investigators.

 

What do you think about Google’s European relationship? Tell us on Twitter with @growwithorganic, or join us on other social media platforms like FacebookLinkedIn or Google Plus.

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