Google Changing the Game Again

If your eCommerce business is anything like ours, you rely on organic searches for a fair amount of your traffic. We’ve always tried to apply best practices for SEO and for the most part have been very successful at earning high rankings for target keywords, especially on Google. The more organic traffic we get, the higher our revenue stream.

The search world is undergoing the most serious change I can remember seeing since we started this business with the introduction of Bing and the new Google search enhancements that are starting to be introduced in response to Bing.

As I grazed through many different searches this week on our target keywords, I realized that maybe the importance of being #1 in Google’s rankings is starting to change. Here’s what I found and why that #1 ranking in Google starts to mean something different in the future.

Test Drive the “New” Google

We’ve been getting a lot more traffic lately from many of our target keywords on Google, so I decided to evaluate whether it was because there are more searches on those words or because our “rankings” are highter. So, I did a google search on the phrase “gemstone beads”. Our website, was ranked #5 or #6 in my first pass, which is lower than we usually see. Then, I realized I was logged into Google Analytics, so I logged out and did the search again. This time we were ranked #3.

Then, I tried the same search in Firefox instead of Safari and this time our search ranking was still #3, but the PPC ads that were presented to me were completely different. I saw 3 “image ads” in the right column from Target that were for “bead” books for kids. All the “standard” PPC ads were showing below those 3 images. I was unable to see those images on different searches in Safari at all no matter what I tried. Being the curious guy I am, my searches continued….

I then started playing with the new “Show Options” choices at the top of the Google search results page. I tried “related searches”, “images from the pages”, “recent searches”, “wonder wheel (very cool by the way)”, and all the other choices. Guess what? You GET DIFFERENT SEARCH RESULTS in almost ALL the scenarios. Sometimes I got PPC image ads from VERY BIG retailers in the top 3 ad positions for useless and unrelated items, and sometimes I did not.

My brain just went WOW, what’s this going to mean to our organic search in the future? Where did these PPC image ads come from and what does that mean to my campaigns. And why is a Walmart PPC ad for toys showing up on a search for glass beads?

I did much more casual testing on our top 30 keywords or so and found that overall, we still performed very well organically in most of the “options”. But, each and every keyword performed differently in the various options. Results also sometimes varied based on my browser and whether I was logged in, not logged in, or using a private browsing session.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Not sure I have any firm conclusions to share at this point. But, here are some observations and a recommendation:

  • As we all discover the “New Google”, we will slowly change the ways we search for things based on our own preferences as Google intends.
  • Being #1 in a keyword ranking may really mean that you are #5 for standard results, #1 with the “image” option triggered, #3 for “recent” and #20 with some other option selected
  • We will not fundamentally change what we do for SEO which is use good HTML structure, have relevant content, leverage internal and external links, and so forth until we learn something different is needed
  • As a consumer, I don’t want useless image ads on my search results page. I hope Google gets rid of that immediately. If they don’t PPC advertisers will have to evaluate their strategies and positioning below those ads
  • This is just the beginning of the “Search Wars”, so I expect much more rapid change forthcoming – I saw Google may license Twitter and Facebook content……that would really change the “recent” search results

My recomendation is for all of you to get out there and test drive the new Google yourself. You can’t rely on any type of automated ranking program to evaluate this for you. For some of us, it’s all good, for others it may force change in your SEO practices.

Google Changing the Game Again
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