Lately, you might have noticed Google’s aggressive and frequent product announcements. With so much going on at Google during the past few weeks such as Google’s Penguin algorithm update, the Google Plus iPhone and Android app redesign, Google’s Knowledge Graph, Google acquiring Motorola Mobility, Google Maps being replaced by Google Plus Local and Google Shopping; it’s become so very hard to keep pace with the changes (or future changes) that are bound to affect SEO and SEM strategies in the near or distant future. Therefore, I thought I’d take a step back and use the Queen’s Jubilee weekend to gauge how all of this will shape your future SEM strategy. Google has always maintained that search is at the heart of everything they do. So it’s safe to assume that all of their major updates, will in some way have an impact on search.
Google and mobile
Firstly, it is clear that Google’s taking their mobile strategy very seriously. Larry Page, Google’s CEO, writing on their official blog stressed “many users coming online today may never use a desktop machine, and the impact of that transition will be profound–as will the ability to just tap and pay with your phone. That’s why it’s a great time to be in the mobile business”.
In fact, recently PayPal struck a deal with Aurora Fashions which will allow customers to pay using their phones in the shops, rather than their wallets. Not only will this speed up a shopper’s purchase process, but the retailer will now be able to tell what exactly you have bought, where and what time and tie it up with other data they already have about you.
But coming back to Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility, it is quite obvious that apart from obtaining a healthy stockpile of patents for legal defence (or offence) they would also want to build their own flagship Android phone thereby creating a full end-to-end product. This could be more of a reality with recent rumours of a Facebook smartphone possibly being launched sometime next year.
Google serious about social
Forbes’ contributor, Shel Israel, describes Larry Page as a modern day Captain Ahab who is after Moby-Dick (Facebook). However, I don’t think Page is naive enough to think Google plus will be an alternative to Facebook. From an advertisers perspective, Facebook’s edge over any other advertising network is the level of granular information it has of it’s users. Facebook knows who you’re first girlfriend or boyfriend was, which restaurants you frequent, if you were on holiday and where, who you’re best friends are, how you are connected to a friend on your network (a mate from primary school or a former workmate) and all of your most important life events. This level of data on users is something that makes Google jealous. Page, in an interview with Bloomberg said “we would love to have better access to data that’s out there. We find it frustrating that we don’t”.
Google’s Knowledge graph
While Facebook’s mapping our social graph, making sense of who we are, what we’re connected with, and what we care about; Google’s essentially changing the game with “knowledge graph” (Danny Sullivan’s post is by far the most comprehensive on the subject). The concept of a smarter web isn’t something new. The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, back in 2001 wrote about the “semantic web“, describing it as “a new form of Web content that is meaningful to computers and will unleash a revolution of new possibilities”. The concept of a semantic web is to go beyond just names, date of birth, or height of a person as you witness today, but to actually be able to answer complex search queries such as “what proteins are involved in signal transduction and are related to pyramidal neurons?” (the example query was taken out from here). Google obviously can’t answer this complex question because Google primarily uses keywords within content and links pointing toward that content in order to serve you with “relevant search results”. For Google to be able to answer the above question, it will need to go beyond keyword strings and understand things and entities. A smarter Google will immediately be able to understand that the query is actually in relation to Alzheimers disease. Google’s ambition is nothing short of being able to give you the answer to this query or at least guide you toward the best available answer on the web.
How would this impact search?
So in short, with the convergence of mobile, social media and the knowledge graph you’d expect an intelligent Google. In a hypothetical scenario, imagine you’re making plans to celebrate your wife (or husband’s) birthday; Google will already know of this via Google plus (assuming you and your spouse are on Google Plus) and if you search for gift ideas or of restaurants nearby, Google could then safely assume that you’re looking for a gift for your spouse’s birthday and serve you results pertaining to birthday gifts. Also, if you were looking for a restaurant with specific needs or even a particular time (say you want to go out for dinner at 8pm), using microdata, microformats or RDFa a local business could specify their location (helping Google better evaluate proximity), menu (helping Google to evaluate what you mean by “Murgh Makhani” in your search) and opening hours (helping Google to serve you with restaurants that are open at times that you’re searching). Based on the plethora of data that Google has of you and your actual intent, Google would provide you with the most relevant of search results to you.
From a business perspective, in addition to on-page SEO, it also becomes important to incorporate multiple strategies focused on mobile, social media and in the long term, the knowledge graph. These can include a ‘click to navigate’ option for GPS navigation, and click to call functionality on mobile. Also make sure to include an easy to opt-in link on how users can receive text offers and other relevant information on discounts. This would help make lead nurturing an uninterrupted and seamless process. Also if you run sales events during the year, make sure to share your calendar with your customers. Make sure to optimise product images to help reduce page loading times (think about users with 3G connections). Although there is debate on whether you actually need a mobile version of your site since smartphones work as smaller sized PCs, it is worth noting that globally though, the “dumbphone” market is over 70%. Therefore, if you serve internationally, it is important to have some sort of presence when someone searches for you via “dumbphone” mobile devices outside of the North American and European markets.
If you haven’t already done so, I’d also strongly recommend getting yourself familiar with structured markup (especially Schema); you could also go ahead and set up an account with Freebase and start contributing to the knowledge graph. With regards to the knowledge graph and structured markup, it’s important to stress two things. Firstly, don’t look at it as a license to try and spam the system; if you don’t have reviews on your pages, then don’t try to include rich snippets markup on your pages. Secondly, the idea of connecting “things” and helping structure data in an organised form will serve to help users make complicated queries on search engines, and hopefully usher in a much more intelligent search engine, a search engine ever so close to the Star Trek computer that Amit Singhal one day wants to build.