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Search has changed dramatically over the past year and semantic technology has been at the center of it all. Consumers increasingly expect search engines to understand natural language and perceive the intent behind the words they type in, and search engine algorithms are rising to this challenge. This evolution in search has dramatic implications for marketers, consumers, technology developers and content creators — and it’s still the early days for this rapidly changing environment. Here is an overview of how search technology is changing, how these changes may affect you and what you can do to market your business more effectively in the new era of search.
What Is Semantic Technology?
The word “semantic” refers to meaning. According to Search Engine Journal, semantic search (also known as “entity search”) “uses machine intelligence to determine the intended meaning of words so searches become more relevant.” Semantic technology has been gradually introduced in recent years, offering users easier access to the information and connections they’re seeking. Without even knowing it, consumers are using more natural speech in their search queries and they EXPECT to be understood. As Search Insider puts it, the goal is to “focus less on keywords and more on intent-based collective intelligence.”
No longer focused on just keywords or even phrases, Internet search has evolved to employ a new level of sophistication, the so-called semantic search engine. From now on, Internet surfers will be able to search based on “entities”; in simple terms, persons, places and things. These entity searches will reveal far more about the topic being researched than was possible before. For example, instead of just directing you to a prominent contemporary person you may be researching, Bing’s “Satori” will link you to any and all ”Talks” that person has delivered.
Google’s new “Hummingbird” algorithm allows the user to conduct what Google calls “conversational searches”. By this they mean that the search engine will take an entire sentence into account, not just the words in the sentence. So, instead of directing you to the nearest pizza restaurant, you’ll be directed to the nearest pizza restaurant that’s currently open, has the special ingredients you want and offers a promotion to new and returning customers, or whatever else you type into the search bar. The search engine strives to understand not just the words, but their context, hence the term semantic search.
The New World of Search Engines
Schema.org: Bing, Yahoo and Google recognize that in order to adapt to the new search landscape, they would have to put competition aside and engage in some collaboration. In 2011, they jointly launched the Schema.org initiative. Schema defines a new set of HTML terms which can be added to a web page’s markup. They will be used as clues to the meaning of that page, and will assist search engines to recognize specific people, events, attributes, and so on. For example, if a webpage contains the word “pentagon,” a Schema definition will clarify whether it’s about the geometric five-sided figure or the Department of Defense headquarters building.
Knowledge Graph and Snapshot: Google has been increasing the scope of its Knowledge Graph results, which offers users a box on the right hand side of the search results page that provides images and facts that are applicable to the searcher’s intent. Bing’s Snapshot, which functions similarly, was enhanced in 2013 by the advent of “Satori,” which will assist with understanding the relationship between people, places, events and objects.
Hummingbird: In September 2013, Google announced the arrival of Hummingbird, its new search algorithm. According to Google search chief Amit Singhal, Hummingbird represents the most drastic change in search algorithms that Google has made since 2001. He explains in Search Engine Land that Panda and Penguin were updates to the old algorithm, and some aspects of them will continue to apply, but Hummingbird is actually an entirely new search engine, designed for the search needs of today. Hummingbird offers a greatly increased comprehension of the meaning behind the search terms. Instead of just taking a few words from the query and trying to find pages with those words on them, Hummingbird is actually trying to decipher the meaning behind the query and offer results that match users’ intent. The Search Insider blog points out that Bing and Yahoo have made similar changes, though perhaps less drastic. They have geared their searches to respond more to full phrases and to understand the meaning contained in a string of words.
Rising Stars: With the advent of semantic search, an array of new search engines are being freshly constructed. Although their user numbers are microscopic when compared to the major search engines, these new players have the advantage of being able to make a fresh start without worrying about modifying earlier structures. Examples of natural language search engines include: Powerset (now owned by Microsoft), Hakia and a handful of others.
Applications for Semantic Search Augmented Reality (AR): With Google Glass, an overlay (of a map, for instance) is layered on top of the landscape that is being physically seen by the viewer. This will lead to more image tagging and visually based searches. This has a natural tie-in to marketing, since shoppers will be able to look at something and then learn about it (and where to buy it) based on its appearance. However, Google Glass still faces some challenges: It uses a combination of image, facial and voice recognition technology, and that means that a continuous network connection is required because you can’t pack enough processing power into just a few ounces. However, this obstacle is likely to be overcome before too long, and wearable technology of all kinds is just over the horizon.
Search and Mobile: According to Search Insider, mobile search and the birth of Siri have been the biggest catalysts for consumers changing approach to search. Since Siri encourages natural language questions, and people have gotten accustomed to having immediate access to the information that they want, voice recognition technology is increasingly driving Search. The mobile search utility Google Now is powered by natural language, and fits into the user’s life by supplying them with the information they want before they even realize they want it. The expectation of this kind of responsiveness has circled back to text-based online searches, and all the major search engines have made adjustments to meet this demand.
Social Media and Semantic Technology: Facebook has announced that its new Graph Search is equipped with semantic search technology so that users can find the connections they want more easily, and advertisers can achieve more intuitive understanding of users’ preferences. Graph Search also enables far more accurate targeting of marketing, since it can make new connections. For example, a user (or advertiser) can find friends who like X who live in Y. Basically, the new technology provides a treasure trove for data mining, although it too has a few challenges to overcome.
The new deeper data levels are based on people spending more time on Facebook, with broad networks of friends and connections. Also, the public concern with Facebook privacy continues and these concerns may prevent people from “Liking” certain things. Overall, however, the prospects are bright; Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, predicts in Bloomberg Businessweek, “Graph Search will grow to about a quarter of Facebook’s revenue, or $3 billion to $4 billion in 2015.”
What are the Implications for Marketers and Content Creators?
In their introduction to Hummingbird, Google states that the new algorithm doesn’t really usher in any SEO changes. SEO success will still depend on simply presenting original, high-quality content. However, the science of marketing is undergoing change in response to semantic search, because improved perception of user intent opens new doors. Users will have far greater success in finding what they’re looking for, and marketing campaigns can drill down to finer and finer demographic sectors based on intent as well as device type, location, history, and so forth.
Graph Search, and its inevitable flock of cousins on other social media platforms, will intensify the networking aspects of consumption, as friendship and commerce become less and less distinguishable from one another. On the semantic web, each user’s identity and intent will become clearer, with the dual outcomes of being more successful at finding what they want and being more findable by the commercial entities who can provide what is wanted.
Penny Herscher, CEO of First Rain, a B2B customer intelligence firm, describes her vision of B2B marketing in the semantic search world. She presents a scenario in which you could see someone at a conference and, with the use of facial recognition software, instantly call up their identity and learn what business they’re in and who their clients and competitors are. Not only that, but you could have instantly available suggestions about whether it will be productive to go over and introduce yourself. Basically, augmented reality is a new relationship between the physical world, including physical face to face interactions, and a world of information that lies behind what you’re seeing. This information influences the way that you will interact with all the worlds you inhabit.
The Direction of Searches and Search Engines
Despite the billions and billions of searches, Google reports that 20 percent of all searches in 2012 were new. It seems quite staggering, but it’s a product of the semantic search rather than the simple keyword search. And the trend will continue. Searches will become faster and more relevant information will be delivered to the consumer. Today, 96 percent of consumers’ time on the Web is spent on content sites. Will that percentage someday reach 100 percent, with time searching reduced to a statistically insignificant number? And, with 35 percent of searches occurring outside of search engines, will your site and/or ads be properly structured to attract traffic from off the search world’s “beaten path”?
There is no definitive answer to all of these questions, just as there is no definitive forecast as to what the future of Internet searching and digital marketing will hold. Will your mobile device detect that you need a haircut and generate a text when you drive past a barber shop? Will your Internet habits allow new algorithms to be developed that will predict your future activities? Certainly, the future possibilities are endless for those who are studious enough to keep pace and agile enough to adjust.
Kerstin Recker is the head of marketing at Vertical Search Works.
Have you ever stopped to consider why your website may not be performing quite as well as it used too? It is always worth it to stop and have a close look at what your offering as an online presence to the public, because sometimes a face lift is in order.
Online marketing and branding is still a rather new avenue of growth for every business out there, and it’s one that needs to be monitored and measured appropriately to make sure you’re getting the most you possibly can out of it. Every now and then we have a client come to us with their woes of poor online performance and when we look at their website it’s like looking through a time warp. An outdated appearance on a website can be detrimental to an otherwise successful business offline. Tech is always improving and we’re a long way from using tables and basic HTML scripting to design and build websites, having a recognizable and intuitive website design is a significant part of a successful online presence.
Businesses are always growing and changing and sometimes your old mission statement and goal doesn’t match your current model. It doesn’t mean that you need to completely redesign and develop your website, but it can always help to revisit your content and your vision to make sure that your websites message matches that of your vision. Also to keep in mind is just how does your website react when you visit it with a smart phone or a tablet? If your site isn’t at least somewhat responsive you’re only losing out on providing your visitors with both their desired and required experience. If your site is difficult to use and navigate then your visitors are likely to leave in favor of finding someone else to provide them with their needs.
As strange as it might seem, we’ve been approached by some people looking for help online and found that while they have an incredible site, and a great message and content they’re just not meeting their conversion goals. There are usually only a couple of reasons that we can boil this down too, one of them being that the conversion message, or call to action is lost in the complexity of the site. Keep your message and conversion message simple and you’re more likely to end up with that coveted sale. Additionally we have even had some site owners come to us and have found that their designer of their site neglected to allow indexing of their site via an htaccess or robots.txt file. There is always time for you to reevaluate your website it’s content and it’s call to action, and always make sure that if you need assistance with any of your online issues to make sure to call the experts here at Freshtraffic.
There is always a someone talking about how SEO is a dead industry, and more often than not the doomsayers used a very specific type of optimization methods.
When the online marketing game started it was a fairly simple matter to get almost any website listed. You didn’t even really need to have any content of merit or even any kind of following to your website. You didn’t even need to have an okay website never mind a high quality one and as for any kind of best practice guide it didn’t really exist in the beginning. There were no pure white hat methods, although there were many black hat methods and it took a while before the search engines even began to lay penalties to some of the worst offenders. This all started with real gusto across the web in the mid to late 90s.
As the web grew and expanded and as the search engine bots, crawlers and tech got better, the types of things that you should do and shouldn’t do began to become clearer. After a few years of clean up, the search engines and their algorithms fell almost into a routine. You could build a site, create or scrape some content, point any kind of a backlink at it and make a site start to show up in the results pages. It was at this point that the terms ‘search engine optimization’ really started to become widespread and the notion that you could make money from SEO started to become an avenue for people who frequented blogs and discussion forums about the quickest and easiest way to make a dollar online. This was in around 2005-2010 era of SEO, when the industry became suddenly inundated with experts in the field. It really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, that these are the same folk who are calling SEO a dead industry these days.
In the last few years SEO has had some major shifts with the algorithm much the same as the industry saw in 2003 with the Florida update which cleaned up a great deal of the spam across the web. Penguin and Panda were the most recent additions to the Google algorithm which changed the world of SEO enough that the prior blogged about methods of spammy content and tons of anchor text and backlinks disappeared as a viable strategy. They were very simple methods, easy to implement and even easier to spam multiple sites to help drive a target to the top of the results pages. But since the means and the methods became unusable as a reliable way to rank a site, it is suddenly the end of SEO as a viable means of marketing. So the next time you’re approached by an agency who tells you that ‘SEO is dead’ take a moment and remember that the industry is far from dead – if anything it’s growing. It’s only the that the wheat has finally been separated from the chaff.
So Expedia has been hit hard with a Penalty and lost 25% of its visibility. There’s even been talk about a Negative-SEO attack, really? Let’s cut the bullshit here, we all know that most large firms on the net use all sorts of tactics to rank higher, after all BIG BUCKS are at stake and that’s all that matters to these guys.
We had BMW a few years back, JC Penny last year with a host of others around the globe all screaming they didn’t know, I Call Bullshit to all these. You hear the same excuses, we didn’t know, it was the SEO Company who did it, yes the good old SEO Firm gets it in the ass again.
Okay let’s look at some facts for Expedia.com, the reasons why may be Google slapped them.
This started back in December 2014 when a single post of an angry SEO who had received a penalty wrote and pointed out that “big players” could buy low quality links and get away with it. The post gained a huge following in the SEO community which obviously brought it to the attention of Google. Exactly a month later Expedia’s visibility was declining and so was its stock price.
So with a little research it’s easy enough to find loads of link networks, sponsored low-quality articles, and WordPress Themes with a hidden link to Expedia.com, even black on black links for cheapest flights, very circa 2008. You can see travel blog themes created in 2011 with php code to expedia, so it begs the question about negative SEO, why would anyone do that for such a long time, 3-4 years.
With a little checking it was found that the owners of these sites was a company called Myers Media Group who own a company called Enterprise SEO who just happen to have a client called expedia who they have worked with since 2007, the plot thickens.
So unless this company is a huge scam, there was not any “negative SEO” attack. Creating WordPress Themes with a keyword rich footer is not new, like I said earlier very 2008, Definitely black hat and definitely outside of any Google Webmaster Guidelines – back than and even more than ever today.
A day after Expedia rankings started to drop, by coincidence or not, all the old themes started to get updated with the footer links missing, magic. The sponsored links word was also removed. May be the giveaway on these was the created by the Expedia cheapest flights team. So they did know?
Keyword rich links were dropping by the thousands from all these themes. Actually now, the word “expedia” is not present in this updated theme at all. So basically, on January 20, 2014, the theme was “wiped” clean from everything that could have brought Expedia into trouble.
So did they get punished for just these themes or was there more? Well we noticed that links from shady auto generated networks were also disappearing, in honesty they looked more like link farms they had setup for cheap hotels in Vegas etc., but it doesn’t stop there, in looking deeper expedia.com had other link networks that were shady. Looking at the backlinks it’s pretty easy to see which were clearly part of a network.
They clearly knew what they were doing, link networks, paid links or advertorials, paid guest blogging with low quality posts, real spammy, submissions in free or paid online directories, Sponsored articles or Press Releases with do-follow, keyword rich links, Yes They Knew.
So what now? Well as I write they are trying to clean house, on-page changes, and link removal even the agency working for the Expedia.ca site left many minor “bugs” that they are now fixing.
It takes two to tango and as you know I speak my mind, the companies make huge dollars listing at the top of Google for Big Hitting keywords, always have always will, but to get there is another matter, it takes dollars, lots of them and time, lots of that too along with know-how. There’s clearly some things that still work today that worked 10 years ago and are within the guidelines which make a huge difference, but if you ask me today can I list tops for the big hitters without going a little grey, in honesty no you can’t, Big Bucks will always rule, even if you get it for only a short time 2-3 years before your caught, because you can always throw the card, I didn’t know, it was the SEO.
Will Expedia be back?, Sure they will, they’ll clean house, spend another 10 million on Adwords this year, “Google likes that”, and start again, only this time they will be a darker shade of white.
With the explosive growth of the web and the rapid pace of business development online it managed to catch a lot of the older, more established industries with their proverbial pants down. And every now and then, one of them tries to make a change to catch up to the pace of the web.
The Wall Street Journal introduced one of the first methods of pay for news services by an online newspaper, they saw the coming of the storm and instituted the first known version in ’97. They started off slowly, but in less than ten years they had garnered more than a million readers and have been going strong ever since. Had more ‘old media’ agencies like radio and newspaper followed their example then it’s likely they wouldn’t complain about the loss of consumers as they head to the web to get more of the news that they want.
The WSJ did the right thing for them when it was needed in order to not only survive the online marketplace, but to thrive as well.
But every now and then, there is a surprise and a business does something completely unexpected, and launches a business idea that is completely out of their scope of services that it’s startling to see; like a newspaper suddenly offering website design and development services. Now to be fair, that’s not entirely out of their range of business as they do have an advertising department and offering designers up for websites isn’t out of their realm of possibility. They already create ads to run in their papers and flyers, so it’s not entirely foreign that they would be able to help out for businesses that might need a website. When they start offering up search engine optimization services though, now we’re talking about leaving their realm of expertise completely. There is a very specific set of skills that is required in order to be able to properly work an SEO campaign, and the odds that a newspaper can meet those needs is slim at best. Horses for courses as they say, and the last time I looked a print newspaper is almost the exact opposite of the online market.
A major decision when you’re working with your website is to decide what is your overall aim – are you going after customers and sign ups, or is it all part of a larger plan.
A misconception which still seems to plague the online marketplace is just how valuable the web can be for you and your business. It seems that a portion of every client introduction has to be devoted to working out what the goal is for your company. If you’re looking to have people buy into your product or your service we have to work your site and its content in a different fashion than say, trying to encourage people to sign up for your newsletter.
Let’s presume for a moment you’re going for the sales approach this time around. One of the first questions that we’ll ask ourselves is ‘would I buy anything right now on this website’. Sometimes the conversion points are good on the site and we only have a few areas to tighten up, but more often than not the process to even begin to buy anything from the website is lost, or unintuitive to the visitor. One of the major hurdles when building and refining a website with a sales orientation is ensuring that the process is so simple the process can be completed with a few mouse clicks and with typing in billing and shipping information. The more difficult you make your process the less likely you are to succeed. Email signups or newsletter mail listings are another matter entirely where the web is concerned. It only takes a search in the news to find out that there are privacy concerns running rampant across the web. So when you come forward and are asking people for their email address, you need to do it in a more delicate way. And just like the sales approach of the web you need to make sure that the process is very simple, and very clear to understand.
The value behind the web that seems to slip by more people than not, is the power of the web in building, promoting and spreading your business as a brand name. Brand names are those ubiquitous terms or phrases that just instantly pop into your mind when someone says something like ‘soft drink’. You think of Coca Cola, or Pepsi, or one of your other favorites – the goal of branding your business online should always have this end in mind. Because regardless of whether you’re trying to make a sale, create a newsletter list or trying to be number one on page one, what should be your end all be all is your business being known as a brand.
A new year has dawned and the search game is as active as ever. You have a full clean slate ahead of your business and your website, but do you know what your goals are?
Last year was actually rather monumental in the world of search, we had farmers, pandas and penguins appearing seemingly from no where. There were the affiliate changes, the encrypted terms and semantic search that were all brought to the top headlines of blogs and posters across the web. All of them were large shifts in how the search results are created and displayed for sure, but the key aspect of their purpose remained the same – the better your visibility the more likely you are to get what you want out of the web.
There is a lot of potential for the coming year for search to be sure, but first we need to stop for a brief moment and take stock of the previous 12 months. A thorough understanding of what has been done and what the results have been will help dictate what needs to improve for the coming year. Whether it was a lackluster social profile, possibly a declining search presence or perhaps you put your nose to your grindstone and saw all of your positions jump over the last year.
Regardless of what your past 12 months were like with the search engines, you now have a fresh, clean canvas ahead of you. Give us a call and we’ll make sure that you paint your vision of the coming year.
2013 was one of the most impactful years on the SEO industry in recent history. From the Panda updates early in the year to the crushing Penguin 2.0 in May to the launch of the Hummingbird Google algorithm in August, the full encryption of Google organic search data beginning in September, and Penguin 2.1 in October, the search engines had digital marketing professionals working overtime to keep up with the changing landscape and in many cases business owners losing more than half their market overnight.
3 Most Impactful Updates in 2013:
- Penguin 2.0-2.1: As if Pengiun 2.0 didn’t cause enough mayhem in the SEO community, along came the next chapter of the Penguin saga. Some sites that survived Penguin 2.0 were hit while many that were already affected by 2.0 suffered further damage by 2.1. The result of these Google algorithm updates is the need for sites affected to actively clean up their link profiles. An effort must be made to identify links hindering performance and/or leading to penalties and manually reach out to the hosts to request removal. This is the only way to recover any performance lost in the updates.
- Google Keyword Data Encryption: With 80+ percent of organic search data not providing the actual referring keyword data, the sample size is now too small to really make informed strategic decisions based on keyword-level data alone. Rather, in order to make the right decisions, a shift needs to occur from analyzing keyword-level data to leveraging alternate data points and sources such as page-level data.
- Google’s Hummingbird Algorithm Launch: As a result of Google’s new algorithm launch, a great deal of focus must also be placed on effective content development. Specifically, content strategies must be adjusted in such a way that produces answers common questions a particular business’s consumer base is looking to have answered. More of a focus on locally targeted content must also be established as results are now more localized.
It’s one thing to read news and conjecture about the death of search engine optimization, but it’s another point all together when the provider comes forward and admits that their organic search is failing.
No the news hasn’t come from any major search engine, but it has come from the worlds largest social network – Facebook. It has really only been a year or so since Facebook has come out with their graph search – their newest search iteration that tries to show you what is included in your social circles in only a few keystrokes. There were two main points that they’ve shared that has raised the ire search marketers across the web.
We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site (Facebook). We’re getting to a place where because more people are sharing more things, the best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business is to pay for it.
So in short, now that Facebook has the attention of somewhere north of a billion users, they’re telling business page owners that if you want to be seen, you’re better off paying them if you want to be seen.
So if you have a business page on Facebook, you aren’t completely lost with the surprising information – you do have options that you can exercise instead of just abandoning the Facebook ship. One of the primary things you can do if you don’t want to deal with the changes is to completely jump ship for the other social media services out there – LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ namely. They all have their pros and cons, LinkedIn is a more professional social network and allows you to build a professional relationship around their network of users. Twitter allows you to speak instantly, and clearly to anyone who wants to listen, and Google+ while still relatively unused as a social service, has developed an almost rabid fan following of users.
Your other choice is to roll with the punches that Facebook is throwing your way and adapt to their upcoming changes and see where you come out on the other side. While paid advertising works on any network whether it’s social or search, you need to understand that a high portion of your budget is going to become general advertising overhead. It also needs to be understood that if you decide to use Facebook as a traffic generator, that your budget will have to also increase as you’ll essentially be paying people to see your page and website.
It is yet to be determined what the outcome for Facebook will be with this change to their organic algorithm, but with the change just being announced it has already caused some major friction in the search game, the social impact is yet to be seen.
In the quest for online dominance, where do you believe is the best place to lay your allegiance – Do you go after organic dominance, social dominance, or diversify?
Not that it should really be a difficult question, but putting all of your eggs in one basket, whether it be organic or social, has never been a good idea. There are pros an cons to each area of online visibility the question that really needs to be asked and answered is what type of balance should you go after as a website owner?
Going after the top of the charts for organic listings is an almost immeasurably powerful position. When you’re in the top 3 results for your key term targets you can easily enjoy 95% or more traffic than being at number 5 or 6 on the results pages. The direct benefit of being in those top spots can be the difference between sending your staff on a paid holiday as a Christmas bonus, or taking them all out to McDonalds for lunch. In a survey conducted earlier this year it was determined that being number 1 for your search term safely netted you more than a third of all traffic for that term, while being number 5 and less, dropped you to the 5% of all traffic. And the reason is actually fairly simple – users like quick and easy to get to their end destination. When a user searches for a service, say they need a banner printer locally, it’s unlikely that they will scroll down the first page passed the first couple of results as they’ll get a listing of all of the local businesses that can provide them with a banner. And when you incorporate into the organic results the inclusion of maps results when someone is looking for a business, it’s even more likely that the user won’t scroll down the page.
The only real downside to organic search engine marketing is the time factor, it takes time for your site to be listed appropriately. And with the constant changes to the search engine algorithms, what is best practices today, may be a red flag the next, it’s a continually evolving landscape that needs to monitored and tended to. As a result of the due diligence required to appropriately monitor the fluctuating search changes, there is often the cost required to keep your SEO on call in order to meet the changes head on.
Social dominance is a whole other ball of wax that requires a different spin in order to capitalize on the marketplace. When you become a force to be reckoned with in the social arena your business enjoys the fandom of (hopefully) thousands of immediate customers and subscribers that are already part of your qualified consumer base. The potential of viral marketing is currently unmatched in how quickly it can bring your company to the attention of your local audience, and potentially even the world. So in short, the social area provides you with a prequalified audience of consumers, the quick sharing of information across multiple channels (Facebook, Twitter, etc), and the potential to go viral and become world known in a relatively short time frame.
A negative to the added visibility and power of the social arena though is first off, it takes a fair bit of time to acquire your consumer base and make them believers in your products and service. It’s much like you’re contracting them to be your sales force by sharing your message as you share with them, and this required a fair bit of personal dedication. And with the potential to go viral with an incredible message (like the recent Westjet video) the potential to run afoul of the internet exists as well. Being active in the social arena needs to be carefully tempered, and your marketing team needs to be diligent in their handling of customers, both positive and negative so as not to find themselves on the wrong side of the news.