Sales & Marketing

How New Search Engines Will Change Marketing

The Search Engine of The Future

Google is constantly evolving its search engine in ways that it believes will keep it highly relevant to the market in a constantly fluid and evolving web.

Through all the changes in search engine algorithms to date the one constant has been that they have been driven by a few main ingredients but mostly by keywords.  Keywords in your URL, your content, picture labels, headings, links and social media.  Whatever way you slice it, keywords are everywhere in SEO because computers are essentially dumb and this has been one of the only ways that an algorithm could easily determine relevance.

Search engine companies understand that the user experience is vital to their continued success.  The other side of the coin is that the internet has created a fundamental shift in the way that companies now market and the way in which buyers look for information and buy. From the user’s standpoint, the criteria are quick delivery of only relevant content that the user wants: personalized, relevant, recent and unique content.  Given the potential for inaccurate or biased information, great store is placed by the user on opportunities to validate this information.

Semantic Search

Ever at the forefront of development, Google recently announced some new dimensions in their “search engine of the future”. 

Search engine technology has been driven forward hard by developments such as SIRI and Google Assistant which has resulted in a fundamental shift that comes under the label of “Semantic Search”. This uses artificial intelligence in order to create a context and “understanding” of the searcher’s intent.

Current algorithms seek to frame the best guess meaning of the query by trying to align with keywords based largely on search phrases and keywords with the text search inputs. Semantic Search technologies use natural language rather than key words.  But language can be ambiguous so they need to look deeper into the input by examining the relationship between the words, how they work together, and attempt to create a better understanding of what those words mean to the searcher. For instance Semantic Search has to be able to differentiate on grammar and spelling better like understanding that “to” and “too” have different meanings and that when the words “You” and “Tube” are placed together, it changes the meaning. The example Google uses is “Taj Mahal”, which could be a monument or a musical group. To do distinguish effectively, far more contextual input is required – hence the increased reliance on peripheral data such as maps, databases and user information.   To be of use in providing context, these elements have to be mapped in what Google calls a Knowledge Graph.

As you can imagine there will be a significant increase in the influence of peripheral information systems like social media in the decision algorithm.  For instance, part of the initiative to personalize the search return is to look inside the users own frame of reference, say by including the content of their email inbox in the search domain.

The Knowledge Graph

The support system of this semantic search will be Google’s Knowledge Graph, a conglomerate of information aimed to provide create a context around possible queries that people will be searching for. Not only will they need to understand the interrelationships between times, places and people in order to return relevant data, but they will seek to catalogue information about the user’s preferences and history to return relevant items and suggestions that are an extrapolation of those previous activities.

As in-house entities, it is no surprise that Gmail and Google Plus are being integrated heavily into these algorithms with prime space on the SERP (Search Engine Result Page) being allocated to them.  Gmail results will be above ads and other knowledge graph results, making this a valuable location for increased clicks to your site. Only shopping or maps results will appear on top of the Gmail results. So if you target keywords that don’t have map or shopping results, you can appear on the top right without having to pay for those clicks.

What Does It Mean for SEO?

Keywords are easy to identify, include and manipulate, but adding the dimension of intent makes it much harder to engineer or manage results. In order to rank well in semantic search, you will not only have to put your keywords in the right places, but carefully orchestrate the actual meaning behind those keywords and then create content around that to support your intended context. That puts more emphasis on your keyword research and takes the importance of coordinating copy writing with your strategic inbound marketing plan to a whole new level.

When people search, they aim to answer a question. Currently they just search on a few related words that are essentially a truncated version or a key element of the question. SEO therefore revolves around guessing or determining the keyword research is largely data-driven around the popularity of the terms in their question. Keyword research in semantic search will have to focus on what that person actually means when searching for that keyword.

For example what could people be looking for if they search “Pilates”?

  • – What id Pilates
  • – How does Pilates help?
  • – Can I do Pilates on my own?
  • – What equipment do I need to do Pilates?
  • – Are there instructional Pilates videos?
  • – Where can I find a Pilates instructor or classes?

 

Structuring copy to resonate with Semantic Search would require writing each sentence to answer specific questions people might have as it relates to that keyword. You will have to continually ask yourself how what you are writing answers a key question and at the same time you will have to focus on the natural language.  Further, keywords will not be going away anytime soon so the copy will still need to be written as before, to resonate with your target keywords.

This will take time to evolve so will not immediately disrupt the way that we currently target keywords.  However since it adds some richness to the equation and new channels of influence in a highly competitive world, it is something that cannot and should not be ignored.

To me the addition of Gmail and Google + is a fascination and since these arer near real time, there have to be some coolways to leverage the flagging world of social media, especially twitter, to start targeting Gmail accounts?

What does this mean for your Search Marketing Campaign?

Keyword research is and will remain, for now the most important aspect of your inbound marketing campaign.  However in light of the broad trends towards semantic search, now more than ever, is there an imperative to have an integrated and well managed CAMPAIGN!

For instance, not only will there be a need to coordinate the copy on your website with your blog, but now your social media efforts will gain better traction and your email marketing team will need to take heed of all of these elements to provide a comprehensive and fully effective SEO campaign.

As always with the evolution of the internet, the wheel turns!  We have seen the rise and fall of entities such as MySpace, so we know that good ideas will stick, bad ones will fall by the wayside and even some good ones have a finite shelf life. All we can do is to stay engaged in the process and leverage the max out of the current situation.

The especially hard part about small SEO campaigns for businesses is that because of the social media aspect; it all seems so personal and ad hoc.  That makes it extremely hard to step back and realize that it is a set of tools that are working in a very specific way within a carefully designed campaign.  So unless you are Kim Kardashian and your followers are mindlessly hanging on your every move, put the smart phone down and step away from the Twitter.  This it is anything but ad hoc and all about ROI.

Don’t Ignore The Man Behind The Curtain

curtain1 Dont Ignore The Man Behind The CurtainBeing a small business owner is a full time job and one that demands that we cover the full range of business competencies and do them well.  That is both the biggest challenge and the greatest gratification.

My favorite theme is that when your time is maxxed out, you have find creative ways to delegate in order to free up time to focus on things that will drive your business forward.  The questions you have to keep asking are:

  • Is what I am doing the absolute best use of my time?
  • How can I leverage my staff to handle more tasks for me?

Most small business CEO’s I know do not enjoy accounting.  In fact this is generally the first thing they delegate.  Except they don’t delegate – they abdicate.

As a young engineer I could never figure out why engineers got beaten up so badly by the accounting staff. Capital expenditure justifications just got shot down wholesale despite having really convincing business cases (or so I thought).  Two things became apparent to me over time.

Firstly large businesses have whole departments to handle specific aspects of the business, and with good reason, Accounting is one of the largest.  Accountants are the custodians of the “System of Record” which means they get to see what is going on in the business before anyone else and have insight into how exactly the business is running.  This is generally a good thing except where they get to thinking that they are actually running the business and start unilaterally cutting back on non-essential and frivolous expenses like equipment maintenance and marketing.  Most modern accounting packages provide good visibility but still most small business’ have poor visibility because their systems tend to be less formal. This means that it is up to you to insist on getting that visibility through reporting.

This brings us to the second point – Cash Flow, a factor that small business owners experience very quickly and battle constantly and I will leave it at that for now.

Back to the delegation issues!  When you start a business you cannot have many people on board, so it suits you to have generalists who are good (enough) at all things but not necessarily great and anything in particular.  As your business grows, so does the need to do things extremely well.  So the people that made you successful as a startup increasingly become liabilities.   I am sure that an integral part of every small business is that indispensable office manager that too often becomes problematic over time.

Throw in some decent growth and a few adverse “life events” for your staff and things get funky.  As they say absolute power corrupts absolutely, I am sure you have heard horror stories about “Accounting staff gone wild”?  Big companies demand segregation of duties to minimize the possibility of collusion or dishonesty, but how does that translate into a small business context.  The short answer is – with great difficulty since you simply do not have the depth of staff to insist on meaningful segregation of things like shipping an receiving or AP and AR.  Bottom line is that virtually without exception, you have to be the check AND the balance and segregate wherever possible between you and your office manager.  So how do you do it?

Firstly don’t ignore the man behind the curtain.  Just because you know your staff and particularly your office manager and would love to trust them all absolutely and completely, life has taught me that you really don’t know anyone well enough to know if they are pulling a stunt.  You will never know who the candidate is until it is too late so unfortunately the only way to deal with it is to put it all on a footing that closes the door on everyone. If your office manager is the right person for the job – they will actually welcome this because it protects them as much as it does you.  The only person that will not is one that has an agenda they don’t want you to know about.

Here are some practical suggestions on how to do it:

  • Hand sign all checks yourself – never use a signature stamp
  • Have all the bank and credit card statements mailed to your home.
  • Screen your bank accounts for things that don’t add up
  • Random audits (let them do the legwork)
  • Use percentages on your P&L to track % changes in each expense category month to month
  • Most of all – Ask lots of questions.

If your staff know you are on top of things they will be less likely to try something. You will probably pick it quickly if they try and the best of all – you will be in the best possible position to control and drive your business.

Acknowledgements to “51 Fatal Business Errors” by Jim Muehlhausen