The cat-and-mouse game we all play with Google took a dramatic turn earlier this year when the search engine’s programmers made a variety of changes to its algorithm known in the industry as Panda (Panda 3.3, 3.4 and March50-Pack). Google’s programmers, in an attempt to serve up the most relevant pages to any search, have tuned its algorithm to present results based less on keyword usage and more on overall semantics and context on the page. In fact, many sites have seen their rankings decline during April as the algorithm has taken effect, as it has penalized pages it says are over-optimized and guilty of “keyword stuffing.” It’s a reminder to us all that our web environments need to be targeted to create a great experience for the user first, and search engines second. If you haven’t done an SEO site audit in a while, it’s likely time for a fresh review. If you’re seeing an unexplained decline in your rankings, that review now carries a greater sense of urgency!
Archive for June, 2012
A story: recently an engineering magazine editor told me that top-of-mind awareness is more importantthan ever before today because everyone is so short of time. What did he mean? When he was an engineer 20–30 years ago and needed to buy something, he explained, he’d put together a big spreadsheet listing the specs and features of 20 products. He and his colleagues would look at the matrix and select the product that best fit the application. Today, he said, there’s no time for that type of analysis; people just think, I need this — which two companies that make that come to mind? Purchase decisions are increasingly driven by top-level awareness, and you’d better be at the top of the list if you want your share of the business. We see that with some of our own research. When we ask customers to rank their methods of seeking information when buying products, colleague referrals typically top the list. We didn’t truly understand the context of that response until this editor’s comment put it in perspective – colleague referrals are likely driven by the same time pressures to which he referred.
What does this mean for branding and lead generation? If you think of conducting a Google search when researching a potential purchase, the role of strong brand awareness makes even more sense. The first page of results provides 10 links (more when you consider paid search, of course). Think of your personal habits – are you more likely to click on a link from a recognized company or one you’ve never heard of before? Most of us click on those we know and trust, and studies bear this out. Even in the antiseptic, graphics-free world of Google search rankings, the strength and impact of branding is clear.
Getting to the first page of a Google search, the focus for so many marketers, is certainly important. But the editor’s story reminds us that everything works better with a better brand. Are you one of the two top-of-mind companies in your industry?