At this point, Google essentially functions as a portal to the rest of the Web, it is the first stop for most people when they open up their Internet Browser. Despite how frequently both you and I use search engines like Google everyday, the exact manner in which Google famously produces millions of search results in less than a second undoubtedly remains a black box to most of us.
While subtle changes to the features and capabilities of a search engine usually go unnoticed or become passively accepted by its user base, such changes actually constitute a crucial part of the hidden fabric of online marketing and advertising.
How can advertisers and marketers fit in with the content and results retrieved by different search engines? Can we pinpoint these changes? What relevance do they have for us in the end?
Let’s walk through a few of these recent changes, new features, or tools and their bearing on the dynamic nature of success in online advertising and marketing.
1. Enter Google Trends
Sounds intuitive enough, but what is it? As it turns out, Google is keeping a pretty voluminous record of all the commercial searches made and the location from where each of those searches or queries are produced. That’s what Google Trends represents, an index of Google queries sorted by geographic location and category.
Of course, Google Trends wasn’t present at the inception of Google, but somewhere along the line this robust tool manifested itself. This begs the question “How does Google Trends reveal or predict anything about macroscopic trends in human behavior?”
That question’s a mouthful, but the answer is more straightforward than you may think. Consider the simple search term “coupon” as an example.
Now that’s interesting. There are a number of periodic peaks that happen cyclically, plus there’s a big increase from a peak of 50 in January 2008 to 75. As it happens, these peaks correspond to a number of common sense phenomena: holiday shopping seasons and summer vacation seasons. That spike in 2008 likely relates to the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.
More information on how the frequency of searches are normalized to a range of 0-100 can be found in this paper, as well as details on how query volume and share are calculated.
Google Trends is a robust, publicly accessible tool available for examining local, state, national, and even global trends based on keywords and their frequency.
You can download full excel sheets in the form of CSV files to run your own analyses and formulate your own conclusions on these keyword trends.
This data can be used to create a number of forecasting models that have political and economic relevance.
2. Predicting Economic and Political Outcomes with Google Trends
Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with the concept of Google Trends, what’s even more interesting is the fact that we can reliably follow the developments of a number of salient news events in real time. Moreover, with a bit of sophistication, predictions may even be made with a modest degree of reliability.
Let’s take a brief look at the featured insights that Google provides itself to demonstrate the utility of Google Trends.
We’ve all heard of Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia. What does Google Trends have to say?
Unsurprisingly, we see a darker density indicating a greater frequency of searches made in the category of “Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia” for both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and hilariously, “Trump’s daughter dress” is the number two trending term in the related searches list. Sheds a degree of insight over people’s political interests, doesn’t it?
For everyone that’s a NBA fan, Google Trends keeps track of the frequency of team searches as well, creating a colorful map for us representing everyone’s respective team loyalties by state. Hey, it might even come in handy the next time you make bets on sports with your friends.
Google even breaks it down by state for us.
We can begin arranging the pieces of the puzzle regarding how far Google Trends can be taken. If we can evaluate current and past trends and the density of interests, we might even be able to make comments on other important trends such as unemployment or even an election.
In fact, people have already done that. Predicting initial unemployment claims in the U.S. based on search terms such as “unemployment office,” “apply for unemployment,” and “jobs” using Google Trends, or even the Greek referendum results are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential applications of this new feature.
Google Trends has already been used to predict political and economic trends, demonstrating that there is a degree of reliability regarding how real life events and inclinations correspond to searches for those events.
If interest can be represented by search frequency, then advertisers and marketers will be able to utilize analyses surrounding search frequency to model interest and further refine and pinpoint their audience.
3. Public Opinion, Policy, and the Prevalence and Types of Search Engines
Google’s simplistic design arguably allowed to triumph significantly over its early competitors like Yahoo!, AltaVista, or Excite and rise to become the principal search engine in current times. As an article by The Economist puts it “people had too much of too much”.
The 2012 article is prescient in its stunning remarks about privacy and marketing, making its claims a full year before the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden in 2013. It is now 2017, and the author’s statement that “Some 15 year after Google was dreamt up, its home page retains its simplicity. But Google results are now cluttered with advertisements, linkbait, and websites that have been carefully calibrated to work with its algorithms” rings especially loudly in the public consciousness.
Most people are aware of the privacy violations and massive data collection and funneling of information that Google is complicit in when coordinating with advertising companies, but choose to ignore it.
This has a number of implications for advertisers. The foremost being that although Google will remain the primary search engine of choice for most people, other engines will begin to grow in popularity as more and more individuals grow disillusioned with Google’s tracking of data and its manipulation of search content.
The search engine market share as reported by NetMarketShare in the years 2012, 2015, and 2017 best illustrate this trend, as Google’s market share dips from 81% in 2012, to 65% in 2015, before finally returning close to its 2012 market share with 79% in 2017.
This figure demonstrates that although Google occupies a large majority the search engine market share at any given time, it is not infallible to changes in public opinion or to public scrutiny.
Another variable to consider lies in the context in which a search is executed. For instance, we might consider Google our first choice to direct us to websites or to find superficial information on a topic, but these only imply that Google is the primary search engine used in primarily knowledge-based or convenience searches. For videos YouTube may be dominant and for specific product searches Amazon seems to hold the crown.
It is important to diversify the number of search engines that your advertising campaigns influence. Judging based on current events and the current distribution of searches made by users, it may be possible to reach an effective distribution of effort when it comes to directing user traffic across search platforms.
Understanding the context of a user’s search will further help you pinpoint how to approach marketing and advertising. For instance, dedicating time to influence Google searches would be a waste if a product is mainly searched and bought on Amazon.
4. Evaluate the layout of search results
This embodies another one of the major changes made by Google with regards to improving the relevance and immediacy of their results in recent years. In the past, Google might have simply reported a number of blue links to users. Now, there is a host of new methods Google uses to condense the reporting of information to the user, such as with featured snippets.
There are a number of ways this snippet is a game changer for search formatting. First, the visual aspect and convenient arrangement of information likely means that the user will find most of the necessary information they need in simply 2-3 sentences. Clicking on the site is no longer needed.
Additionally, a number of related queries are also displayed in the “people also ask box.” Follow-up queries that individuals would type are now sorted and displayed for them, meaning that they will have one less search to make and one less chance to be directed to a marketer’s site.
When you really investigate it, you’ll find that Google has made a number of these changes across the board with regards to abolishing simple links as the only results. For vacations and other planned events, search formats that similarly prioritize certain suggestions are prevalent.
Take into account the structural layout of Google searches by performing the search and noting whether there are snippet-like features when designing an advertising method.
Locate relevant keywords with significant click-through rates with Google’s Adwords Keyword Planner. Test search these keywords to see how Google processes the results.
5. Cultivate a Familiarity with Google’s Existing Algorithms
Google is constantly updating their search algorithms and how relevance is defined. Therefore, we should strive to be up-to-date with regards to our understanding of how language is processed on a number of different levels by Google’s search engine.
Let’s talk about some of Google’s older algorithms to get a sense of how the framework operating behind the scenes functions for a moment. Consider these two major algorithms: Google Panda and Penguin. Google Penguin aims to decrease the search rankings of sites that deliberately spam and employ other similar brute-force SEO methods to gain rankings. It appears as sort of correction factor for the results.
Meanwhile, Google Panda works in a similar way in how it aims to lower the rankings of “low quality sites,” “thin sites,” and “content farms” while working to return higher quality sites, and again, combatting more basic SEO approaches.
Google Panda and Penguin are just two illustrative examples of how changes to Google’s ranking algorithm produces noticeable shockwaves in the SEO community and its approach to promoting the rankings of certain websites. The Economist best describes these algorithms are heralding a new age where SEO marketing focuses on producing unique and attractive consumer content rather than gaming technological weaknesses:
“Next year will be all about creating unique content that is valuable to users. Proper website design, blogs, articles, photos, videos: these are the tools which will replace the old-style links… Creating content is not enough though. Even if it is brilliant, it will have a very limited impact, unless it is shared. Google will also rank a website higher if it believes that it is promoted in social media, as it makes it more trustworthy.”
To stay ahead in 2017, a blended understanding of the consequences that algorithms bring with the importance of sharing and social media are necessary requisites to producing successful SEO results.
Be aware of SEO techniques that Google has already accounted for or patched by understanding what content algorithms like Panda or Penguin aim to remove.
Anticipate changes and focus on the outlets with appropriate potential, such as how the introduction of Panda and Penguin emphasized the importance of social media and sharing in rankings.
Keep an eye out for new algorithms and study existing algorithms – Hummingbird, Panda, Penguin, Pigeon, Payday, to name a few – so you are aware of what SEO techniques to employ and avoid.
6. Anticipate Future Developments
One of the hottest new developments characterizing the future of sorting algorithms and how search engines establish meaning and relevance lies in the application of machine learning. Machine learning comprises one of the most powerful new methods that Google is beginning to introduce.
Recently, Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo utilized machine learning to improve and even being one of the leading Go players Lee Sedol in a professional match. This was a watershed moment because Go has long been heralded as one of the toughest games for computers to excel due to its high intuitive requirements.
Google is achieving similar breakthrough results with its RankBrain artificial intelligence system. The system draws on millions of queries to establish a sense of meaning and can even guess and formulate ideas through related phrases regarding the “meaning” of a never-before-seen phrase.
What this means for your search results is that Google will be able to systematically produce increasingly relevant results for complex questions like, “What’s the title of the consumer at the highest level of a food chain?” These changes all point to a trend that emphasizes the quality of content, as well as the degree of user engagements as metrics in establishing a site’s search relevance.
Optimize your websites to retain user attention by improving user experience.
Examine related terms to your search in order to be cognizant of how your audience and traffic fits into a wider web of meaning and associations. Promote and eliminate pages based on these observations to improve rankings overall.
So far, we’ve taken a brief look at a few of the most significant changes to the Google search and search engines in general. The key idea and theme here lies with how adaptable you are. As a marketer, you have to be able to diversify your methods according to technological changes as well as cultural changes. As of now, one’s success in SEO marketing seems to depend on a robust knowledge of Google’s core ranking algorithms and a focus on producing unique, attractive content coupled with a web platform that engages the user and holds their attention.