Your New Homepage: The Branded Search

 

 

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If you’ve done a search in Google recently you’ve probably noticed there is a lot more going on on that SERP (search engine results page). As I mentioned in my last post, with the new beta test it looks like Google Posts also previously nicknamed by the SEO blogosphere  “local business cards” will be adding more engaging elements to a branded search.

A picture below depicts a branded search for “A Healthy Choice Spa” (a local business part of the beta test of Google Posts). The Google Posts take up prominent real estate right below the first organic spot. One thing not as obvious in this screenshot is the fact that the photos in this Google Post are in fact gifs, which you can check out here. Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.07.22 PMThe only thing that is more eye-catching on the page appears to be the local knowledge panel.

The local knowledge panel is just one part of the knowledge graph which been around since 2012 but it’s risen to prominence in the last few years. Whether it’s getting the latest score to a game, information on the election or even the answer to a common question Google will now answer it for you. Wikipedia describes the knowledge graph as:Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.10.37 PM

The Knowledge Graph is a knowledge base used by Google to enhance its search engine’s search results with semantic-search information gathered from a wide variety of sources.

So you’re probably  wondering at this point will anyone ever get to my website if they get the answer to their question from Google?

There are few things to take into consideration.

  1. The knowledge graph does not exist without websites from which to not only pull information but to confirm the “accuracy” of that information.
  2. For the most part the knowledge graph appears most on queries that are relatively broad questions or general questions without high user intent to take an action. That being said, if the user is able to find their answer more quickly this leaves more qualified users coming to your website. A good example of this would be to imagine someone querying a treatment for a medical condition. With a knowledge graph answer they can more quickly understand what treatment they need and seek out pharmacies or doctors to him or her attain that treatment.Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.19.32 PM
  3. Sometimes Google gets it wrong. Just today, a coworker brought to my attention that the knowledge graph was serving up a not so helpful quick answer. A query for fashionable jackets yielded this result you can see to the side here. So even as much as Google may try, in this specific instance the user is probably going to click on another result on the page.

While the knowledge graph is a tremendous part of the modern SERP, it’s just one part of a bigger picture. Now with tweets pulling into SERPs, Ads, local packs, organic sitelinks, and more (for which Moz has a great breakdown ) the SERP has become a much more engaging, user-friendly place. So friendly in fact that  I believe that the modern query, specifically the branded query, is the new homepage of your website.

It’s easier to type your business into Google than to navigate to or remember the exact URL. When a user does that search they can get your contact information, hours, reviews, and figure out the best time to visit you to avoid the crowds.

You may have sitelinks on your organic listing or your paid ad likely outlining your key service or product pages. In a lot of way your sitelinks have become your website navigation. If you’re running ads or if your number displays in your local knowledge panel  it’s even possible for the user to go ahead and with the tap of button on their mobile device call you. The best part is they never needed to go to your homepage! Your branded query sold your business to that user.

I view this shift in search that’s been underway for a while now as a tremendous opportunity to dominate your branded SERP. In fact there are more ways than ever to showcase your business in Google. This means investing in ads, updating your Google My Business listing and making sure the best pages are showing up in those first results. Google’s entire search business relies on there being websites to search for on a daily basis. Google wants to keep users on their search engine by creating a user-friendly search experience which at the end of the day is to your website’s benefit as well.  Besides if you don’t take advantage of your branded SERP, there’s always a chance a competitor will.

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Google’s Spring Cleaning: Local Business Cards

In a lot of ways Google SERPs are going through a “spring cleaning.” Out with the old features and in with the new. Last month we bid a fond farewell to right-column ads, this month we got introduced to Google Local business cards (still in beta).  Local business cards (given this name but the SEO blog world not officially by Google) are a fantastic blend of the immediacy of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, with the authority of those top spots in Google. A snapshot of what these look like is in my screenshot below. 

local business cards

The barrier I see at least currently is how effectively the average small business will be able to leverage this?  I can definitely see these local business cards being updated once and never changed again. I would assume this isn’t what the intention is at all. I’m interested to see exactly  who will use these and if cards from only one business be allowed or multiple ones. 

It’s worth noting that these cards are similar to candidate cards which Google rolled out in January of 2016. If the system works like candidate cards work then each candidate ,or in this case local business, can push information to the cards but over time based on Google’s algorithm Google will decide which ones display first. 

All of this has me and probably a few others wondering are the SERPS too crowded? Let’s not forget AMPs, accelerated mobile pages, rolled out recently as well. If we imagine a SERP world filled with AMPs, local business cards, knowledge graph results and ads just think about how crowded the space will get. All of this considered, I guess getting rid of those right-column ads is making even more sense in light of these new features. 

SEO Basics

I thought I would go ahead and share some basic tips them here to give people some background on SEO principles as well as some places to go to get your SEO questions answered.

1.Title Tags

The title tags on a site should be optimized to have  keywords in them so they have a better chance at ranking for them. This is a relatively high-priority item since it is arguably the second most important thing related to SEO on a site. Why are they so important? Title tags show up in browsers, search engine results, and even other websites.  An example would be if you have a site that sells shoes, instead of having the title tag just be the name of the item like “black pumps” try editing it to this phrase that a user might search for such as “stylish black pumps.”

Determining the keywords should be simple, right? If you know your brand, of you course you know what people should be searching for to find it. Not exactly…think about it this way, people often search for phrases as opposed to just words. Just think about Siri, how many times have you asked Siri to look something up? If you ask Siri for the best place to buy leggings in Chicago…it’s going to search for just that (unless of course, Siri interprets it as” the best place to buy Legos in Chicago”).  With the Hummingbird update recently Google has certainly updated in understanding what these semantic searches, searching for the phrase as opposed to the string of words appearing in any order on a page.

Beyond the phrasing, if the keyword you pick happens to be common, for example, leggings, there are probably a great deal of people searching for it. This makes leggings a highly competitive keyword. If your site and 15,000 other sites are all competing to rank for the same keyword it is going to make it harder to become visible. However, there are plenty of related keywords or phrases you can add into your title tags that will ultimately benefit your ability to show up in search results.

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2. URL Structure 

While we’re talking about title tags it makes sense to touch on URL structure. The URL should also include keywords. Ever paste one of those links that looks a mess of a foreign language? (Example: http://www.shopforclotheshere.com/urban/catalog/category.jsp?id=BRANDS&brand=adidas).  Everything after the question mark is not search engine friendly to Google crawlers. By adding keywords they would allow Google crawlers to pick them up and help them rank. You’re basically wasting space in your URL if you have that, why not 1) make it look a hell of a lot better and 2) add some relevant keywords for your brand.

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3. Google +

I’m a big proponent of Google + because it really does matter, establishing Google Authorship for yourself is really important because it gives you legitimacy on the web, for more of an explanation, read my blog post on it here.

4. Blog Away

Text is really important because that is what Google crawls so keeping an updated blog that is relevant to what your site is about is really important.  If you’re not the blogging type offer guest posting on your site, whatever it takes to create new and relevant content on your site. Don’t steal content from other sites, create your own to make your site more legitimate and beneficial to the readers. Google basically just needs to know that you are offering value to those on your sites, then they will help you show up in search results. Think about creating a spreadsheet that keeps track of which pages and which relevant keywords relate to those pages on your site, it will help a bunch.

These are some quick tips, these are  far from in-depth but totally worth implementing on your site! To ask some SEO questions try participating in the weekly twitter chat on Thursdays at 11am PST for SEO appropriately called #seochat.

3 Reasons You Should Be Using Chrome

Thanks to a coworker I recently learned that I’ve been using my web browser wrong for most of my life. I used to hop around Safari, Firefox, and Chrome all the time but I’ve come to realize that Chrome is a much more efficient browser. Here are some basic ways to customize your browser and all are reasons you should start using Chrome.

1. User Accounts: You can be signed into multiple accounts and manage them all in different windows. Each time you select a new user it opens in a different window. From there you can enter a window with all the extensions (covered next) that you need for that particular account. If I have a client that specifically follows Sc-Fi Shows and posts content for there, for example, I can quickly scan sites I have bookmarked in folders and post to that client’s social networks which are all accessible at once through extensions.

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2. Chrome Web Store: The possibilities are endless, pretty much anything you can imagine you can create a shortcut to in this store.  I specifically use the Pinterest, Tumblr, Tweedeck, Twitter, Yahoo! , and  Gmail extensions most frequently. Since I am already signed in as that specific client or user in all of the accounts it will publish the content I want on the correct social media accounts. It’s a no-brainer for a social media manager to be using this!

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3.  Folders:  So you probably already know about bookmarks and folders but just to remind you …using folders is an easy way to quickly scan sites you normally check. I always scan fashion blogs in the morning and then pin or post on tumblr my favorite articles using my chrome extensions for both so I never have to leave the page. In a half hour I can quickly scan dozens of sites and post all my social networks my favorite items. It’s a no-brainer for efficiency.

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Why Google + Matters

My Google + Profile Let me start off by saying I know most people, especially young people are not on Google +, and I get that. However, I feel people overlook the importance and potential of this social platform. It took a really long time for me to understand the benefit of Google +, besides the fact that it felt less saturated that other social networks with cluttered advertising and posts from friends I found irrelevant. The Google + network has 396 active monthly users , which is significant but far from the 1.1 billion plus active monthly users on Facebook.

Understanding Google + 

I often explain Google + as a hybrid between Facebook and Twitter. Google +’s layout mirrors Facebook, though it is considerably less cluttered. The Circles feature which allow you to group friends, coworkers, and family separately reminds me of TweetDeck, a free tool to monitor twitter  activity. Obviously the ease of searching on Google + resembles the Google search engine.

As a social media user ,with many accounts, what’s the benefit of using yet another network that is arguably a hybrid of two of the major ones I already use?

An answer, in short: Google Authorship. It’s the one feature of Google + I think it is slowly going to become very important. It allows you to claim authorship over your content scattered around the web. The more content that is traced back to your common name will help you build authority on the web. You are able to also link your blog posts to your Google + account so that each time someone comments on your blog post the comment will appear on Google +. Google + will then also notify you whenever your content is shared or commented on anywhere the web.Google + is optimizing content marketing. It’s giving people more control over what they create AND share.

Why Google + Will Appeal to Younger Users 

I predict that heightened level of control will appeal to younger generations. There is already some evidence of this, though indirect, in a recent story published by Mashable, written by 13 year-old Ruby Karp titled, “I’m 13 and None of My Friends Use Facebook.” In the article, which created a great deal of discussion at the time of its publication, Ms. Karp cites the fact that family members constantly monitor activity on Facebook to the point younger users, such as herself, are being held accountable for posts on the social network as one deterrent from using the network. Additionally, those same family members and other adults are limiting the access to social networks such as Facebook so much so that younger generations are adapting different networks instead. Design also plays a part, Ms. Karp mentions the fact that Facebook lacks the simplicity of networks like Twitter.  Google + has the simplicity of Twitter and allows users to control which “circle” content is shared with, addressing the issues of concern with family members seeing everything on Google +.

So, will Google + be the social network of the future?  Google + will reinvent social networks, in the same way LinkedIn has, at least in my opinion. LinkedIn has created a professional social network. Google + I see more in line with LinkedIn, it will be one of those things most will need to have to establish authority on the web. So no, Google + is not the new Facebook. Facebook is Facebook, it’s informal and candid. Google + aspires to be much more than that. It’s aspires to be the hub of all our activity on the web.