I can’t even remember how I used to do research for my projects in elementary school. Sure, the topics were slightly less complex, as I recall talking about my favorite animal: My cat Dirk. However, where did I get my information from? Back in the day there was no Google, nowadays I wouldn’t know what to do without…
When Google came around
To start off dramatically: When Google came around, everything changed. And well… It’s true. Nowadays, who doesn’t want to rank #1 in Google? I’ll take a look at Vanessa Fox’s book Marketing in the age of Google to get a better understanding of search engines: how they work; how to optimize; and what is actually really important?
What I think is the most important lesson in the book is that is stresses very carefully throughout every chapter that it is the customer you want to focus on – and not the search engine. In Chapter 6, Implementing an effective search strategy, common misconceptions about the work of a SEO specialist are mentioned, and the reader is warned not to get carried away with SEO terms and forget about what is most important: Their audiences and their user experience.
How do search engines work?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, first we need to get a grasp of what a search engine is and how they work, luckily the book gives us some insight in these matters.
Chapter 5, How search engines work, explains in very understandable language the infrastructure of search engines. What I got from it is that basically you have a web spider or web crawler, which is a robot that browses the internet and finds pages. The way they do this is through links from other pages. Next starts the extraction process, meaning the robots gather content from the pages. This information is stored in an index storage. And last, very important of course, the ranking of what page is the most relevant.
Search engines do not just look at words, but also at external links to the page, anchor text of external links and intent calculation (for example when you are looking to buy something, the search engine will be more likely to show you ecommerce sites). Also, search engines ‘learn’ to show results that are often clicked on, and in this way will be higher up in the search results.
How to optimize?
As I mentioned, this is not a book about tricks and tactics to fool search engines into ranking your page on number one. This is, however, a book that provides insight in how to align business strategy with search strategy and incorporate effective SEO and help your customers find what they’re looking for.
Chapter 3, how we search, and 4, building search personas, give great insight in how to think from the perspective of the customer. In the end all you want is to attract the right customer to your page and lead them to where they need to be, so they can fulfill their need.
First you need to understand how the customer is searching. They are never going to find you if you’re not speaking the same language as them. So make sure they can find you by aligning your content with the search queries they type in. Once that happened, realize how they are scanning each page of the results. As a rule of thumb you can keep in mind that 90% of searchers clicks on the first 3 pages, the title of the result is the most important, but the description is a great opportunity to provide a compelling message.
I think chapter 4 might be one of the most valuable chapters in the book. Especially this little piece of information was an eye opener to me: ‘Often searchers are looking to fulfill a want, not to find specifically your brand.’ It’s so important that your page shows up for non-branded search results, and the searchers actually becomes aware of your brand.
Furthermore this chapter looks at the searcher persona workflow:
Search > Rank > SERP display > Page content > Conversion
A short explanation: First you need to know what your target audience searcher for, then you need to be visible in the ranking for those keywords, next your search engine result page (SERP) must look compelling enough to click on, the landing page should be relevant and identifiable for the customer. When all of this was successful, this leads to a conversion, which is the ultimate goal of your website.
It is important to realize that not everyone that enters the page is looking for the same thing. You should make sure that your customer upon entering the page can navigate without any problems to the destination he wants to be.
Taking another look at chapter 6, implementing an effective search strategy, again it is pointed out that the focus shouldn’t be on ranking, but on customer experience. Some of the tips given in the chapter to build successful content are: Ensure the site has useful information architecture, use the language of the customer, use standard HTML components, remember that every page could be the entry page for the visitor, ensure the site has a good internal linking structure.
The last take away from the chapter is: Search engine algorithms are in a constant state of flux, changes are made every single day. Personalized search findings are becoming more common, says spokesman of Google Matt Cutts. Results are more personalized by location and the ability of the search engine to ‘remember’ what the searcher has previously been looking for. This will lead to more specific results for each individual and questions the importance of overall ranking in the long term.
A word about data
As I can’t really get away with reviewing this book without mentioning anything about collecting data, here’s a fun fact: Before 2006 Ebay threw away it’s collected data after a period of 6 months, until they realized how valuable this information was. Now it’s one of the largest data set on user behavior sites worldwide.
With the data you are collecting it is mostly important to consider how this information can help you attain your goals. Chapter 8, How to cut through the data and get the actionable metrics you need, mentions that the conversion rate is one of the most interesting things to look at. A refreshing point raised in the book is that page views and top entry and exit pages are not necessarily important. What is important however is to look at category queries (related queries, used by a similar group of people), and which ones are performing well, as well as which referral sites are bringing in most people, and what the primary reasons are visitors are coming to the site.
Some other notes
What I really like about the book is the practical considerations: There is a checklist at the end of most chapters for marketers to figure out whether they’re on the right track, lots of useful websites are included, and there are many, many bullet points to give a short and good overview of the key information. Furthermore, there are many real life examples and images that support this. The book is written in a comprehensive way, even the more technical parts, and although it is about a somewhat dull subject, I managed to read through it in a couple of days, and actually quite enjoyed it.
The main critique I have on this book, is that it is a 2010 edition, and since then, lot’s has changed. Google has many, many code names for all the algorithm updates they carry out, including Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Phantom, Venice, and the list goes on (http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change). Besides, nowadays you don’t need to explain anyone what a # is and does anymore. I basically skimmed through chapter 9, social media and search, and didn’t see a word on Instagram. Furthermore, most of what was written should be basic social media knowledge for the marketer in 2014 – although it can’t hurt to spell it out one more time, I guess.
Also, what bothered me was the lay-out, or more specific the two types of sub-headers that were used, quite confusing and not making the reading any easier. And although there was a lot of useful information in the book, I do feel it was somewhat repetitive at times.
All in all I have to say this is well worth your time. You will realize SEO isn’t just about ranking as high as possible. But what does the book say about the importance of ranking #1 in Google? Well, I know, if you’re interested you can always leave me a message