Recent changes to Google’s algorithm continue to impact on digital marketing strategies. But what about other industry changes, aside from the search giant? Lisa Wisniowski, brand communications director at digital marketing agency Stickyeyes, reviews ten important developments in search outside Google.
Google recently announced its latest algorithm update which will focus on penalising those who overload their search engine optimisation. This update, along with the Panda, Caffeine and more recently Venice updates leaves no question as to Google’s impact on companies’ online strategies, but the number of other search developments taking place outside this online giant can often be overlooked.
In the coming months, what other important developments should companies be aware of when planning their search strategy?
- The Yahoo!/Bing Search Alliance
The alliance, which combines search ad inventory from Yahoo!, Microsoft and their partners, is finally being rolled out to the UK with the transition of accounts currently taking place. Those advertisers who have previously ignored Yahoo! and Bing due to a low effort versus return ratio should now at least give the alliance due consideration. Undoubtedly the ability to manage one platform instead of two, but for twice the reach, is an attractive prospect for any PPC marketer and it’s likely that we will see more aggressive advertising efforts by Bing in order to reach new users.
- The elephant in the corner – the EU e-Privacy Directive
The EU e-Privacy Directive, somewhat misleadingly referred to as the EU Cookie Law, comes into effect in the UK on 26 May but many have questioned how aware agencies and their clients are of its implications. The Directive will impact a whole raft of online issues, not just cookies: ranging from competitiveness, user browsing experience, transacting, data collection, quality and interpretation of analytics as well as consumer privacy. Much has already been written about how sites can comply with the Directive and of course, it will be important for agencies and brands to stay informed on the enforcement of the EU rule and the consequent impact of it. However, with the ICO’s own approach being challenged for non-compliance, it’s evident that the solution is far from clear.
- Microsoft investing heavily in adCenter
In addition to the search alliance, Microsoft is busy trying to tempt advertisers to its adCenter suite of tools and products and is rolling out a number of features designed to put it more on par with a certain other platform. Over the next few months they’re rolling out enhancements which will allow for better optimisation of performance including a new match type, rich integrated ads and ad extensions that will allow users to complete tasks and engage with merchants as easily as possible as well as provide improved visibility on quality score.
- The rise and rise of Pinterest
No-one can ignore the recent buzz around this visual social media site which has been seen to drive more traffic to a brand’s transactional site or blog than Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. As with any new platform, checking to see if it is right for your own brand is essential but, don’t be fooled into thinking Pinterest is just for fashion and home brands. With users increasing daily and brands like Confused.com and Peugeot implementing Pinterest strategies (albeit with varied success), there are huge opportunities for a greater range of products and verticals to be showcased on this platform. Of course, the key is to create engaging and exciting projects featuring beautiful and interesting imagery suited to sharing whilst at the same time, ensuring that you (as a brand or agency) can control that visual conversation.
- Bing and Facebook - A threat?
Bing and Facebook got together in 2010 in what was expected to be a partnership that could rock Google's foundations. Since then, we haven't seen anything particularly "wow" from the collaboration but there have been some steps towards integration of the two services including searching with friends - where Facebook information enables the most relevant content to appear in SERPs based on Facebook interactions, likes and user information and Bing using the new logout page ad unit on Facebook amongst others. However, earlier this year Mark Zuckerberg posted a photograph of his desk and Macbook which seemed to show an elongated white box on his Facebook profile. Many speculated that this was a prototype of a new Facebook search engine and, according to Bloomberg, the reports were all but confirmed by two Facebook employees. Although it’s unlikely that Facebook will challenge Google directly, its ability to offer improve search results based on its immense amount of personal data would be an incredibly powerful offering.
- Celebrating the Olympics and Queen’s Jubilee
Although theoretically not a development in search, there is no doubt that brands of all sizes will be keen to capitalise on the interest surrounding this year’s Olympics and Queen’s Jubilee celebrations. Search will play a massive part in people wanting to find out more about these events and although there is no doubt that the search engines will react to this demand, brands wanting to link their promotional activity to the celebrations should proceed with caution. Although some creative licence can give a brand an edge over its competitors, conditions and interpretations of The Olympics Act could result in fines, for example, in the use of particular wording in PPC ads.
- The continuing importance of blogger engagement
Although no longer a relatively new discipline, blogger engagement continues to deliver benefits for brands in terms of increased visibility and awareness and improved brand image. Blogs have niche, captive audiences, making it reasonably straightforward - with the right tools - to identify where your potential customers may be, and can be an essential element of a successful SEO strategy. Natural brand or keyword links secured on quality blog sites complement wider social indicators such as Facebook likes, tweets and bookmarks and, alongside these links, you are gaining honest reviews and recommendations that help create conversations around your brand. The reach and influence of blogs are hard to ignore if you are looking to improve your rankings and overall brand reputation, but blogger engagement should also be approached with caution. If undertaken without a clear strategy there will be no shortage of vocal critics to share their thoughts and experiences online.
- The growth of mobile devices
Whilst the mobile web is by no means a new development, the rapid growth inspired by Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android operating system and, most recently, the emerging tablet market, has ensured that catering for a mobile audience remains an important consideration for online marketers. Figures released by ComScore in Q4 2011 suggest that almost 7% of all web traffic now comes from a mobile device; a figure that is expected to increase significantly in 2012 and beyond. Considerations extend not just to the development of mobile-friendly web sites, but also to supporting marketing strategies, which is of particular importance to businesses with a bricks and mortar presence. As potential customers increase their use of web sites and apps geared to helping them find businesses and services within their immediate vicinity, businesses that fail to deliver information in the right formats could be missing huge potential revenue drivers.
- The resurgence of Brand
Organic, paid, sponsored and content search marketing activity are without doubt vital elements of your online strategy, but the importance of brand searches can often be forgotten. There is no doubt, as evidenced by the recent algorithm updates, that the engines favour brands and so correct linking of traditional PR programmes with your online search strategy can produce the double benefit of improving rankings for search terms whilst also promoting the brand.
However, whilst high brand recall can deliver a positive experience for your customer the downside is that negative results are also likely to appear. This means that digital PR is not just a case of optimising press releases for digital distribution but the traditional PR values and techniques of brand reputation management are as important now as they ever were. And with social media further amplifying online brand reputation – both good and bad – it’s now even more important to manage your brand reputation digitally.
- Increasing reliance on Peer Reviews
With consumers increasingly calling on the advice of friends, peers and even complete strangers to inform their purchase decisions and social media increasing the possibility of such interaction, many brands are failing to appreciate the benefits, opportunities and also the pitfalls offered by peer reviews. We’re increasingly seeing a marked changed in search behaviour with people amending their search from, for example “plasma TV” to “best plasma TV”, to “plasma TV reviews” and more recently and increasingly, ”independent plasma TV reviews” or similar, and search strategies need to consider this development.
Apart from the obvious SEO benefits from this regular user-generated content, peer reviews also offer opportunities to businesses to improve the interaction, involvement and loyalty of their customers as well as improve their product range, wider online marketing activity and general customer experience.
Of course, this top 10 is just a selection of a raft of developments in the ever-moving search space and is by no means an exhaustive list. What else would you add?