Imagine there’s no Google, and no search engines, too. The Beatles never imagined such a world, but it can be quite instructive if you do. What, exactly, would you do differently if you couldn’t depend on the search engines to bring you traffic?
Mike Moran raised that question recently over at Search Engine Guide. He acknowledged that we’ve had the World Wide Web for more than 15 years now, and search engines of one kind or another for most of that time. So this may seem a little unrealistic to ask now. Still, you probably spend a lot of time focused on tasks like keyword research, putting out press releases, adding new content, etc. How much of that is for visitors, and how much is for the search engines? How much of it would you do if you couldn’t depend on Google sniffing by your website and bringing human visitors to it later?
There WAS a time, however brief, before search engines. And even after search engines came to be, many of them weren’t very good. Some of us can actually remember that far back. In those days – post-web but pre-Google – marketers plastered a company’s URL on everything they could think of: stationary, business cards, pens, buses, catalogs, brochures, taxis, billboards, convention swag, magazine ads, online display ads on other websites, you name it. You still see plenty of that, of course, but now there are other options.
“Right,” I can hear you saying, “there are search engines.” But we’re trying to get away from the search engines with this mental exercise. If you couldn’t depend on the search engines to pick up your content and bring you visitors, what would you do? Aside from plastering your URL everywhere, I mean.
Moran offers a good answer that you should think about carefully. “I suspect you’d spend a heckuva lot more time promoting your content. I think you’d tweet it. I think you’d blog about it to your subscribers. I think you’d post a video about it on YouTube. I think you’d mention it in your e-mail newsletter. I think you’d make very sure that you were promoting it every way you could to people you thought might be interested.”
Does that sound a little annoying? It could be – if your content isn’t worthy of being promoted. If it is, though, you need to ask yourself why you aren’t doing this already, regardless of Google.
Let me give you an example. There’s a farm about an hour or two from where I live that sends me a semi-regular newsletter to let me know what’s coming ripe there. They grow both organically and hydroponically; in addition to the fruits, vegetables, and plants, they sell supplies for hydroponic gardening and give classes out at the farm. Their newsletter is always full of information I find of interest, even when I don’t act on it right away. Therefore, I welcome it, and don’t consider it spam.
What about your content? When you post something new on your website, or blog about some new or enhanced product or service, are you sure that your readers and visitors will find it of interest? Or are you just doing it to improve your standing in the search engines, and to feed more delicious keywords to Google so it’ll reward you with a bump in your rankings? If you’re only doing it to feed Google, trust me, your visitors will know. To them, the smorgasbord you think you’re laying out will taste like gruel, and they’ll go elsewhere for a truly filling content buffet.
Now, if your content is good, and you’re truly excited to tell others about it, that will show, too. And if it is that good, you should be promoting it in the ways Moran described – because traffic is traffic, after all, and Google can see what you’re doing. “Increasingly, search engines are looking at social media activity, too, as a surrogate for page quality (just as links are),” Moran noted.
Are you still hesitant to promote your content? Why? Don’t you think it’s worth the effort? Then perhaps you’d better back up and rethink your content strategy. As Moran points out, “if you don’t think your content is worthy of that level of promotion, then that’s the first thing for you to work on, because Google probably doesn’t think much of that kind of content either.” Good luck!
About a year ago, Google started to protect the privacy of users logged into its system by not passing their keyword data along to publishers’ websites – unless, of course, the publishers also advertised with Google. The search giant claimed the move would affect less than ten percent of searches. Why is the reality so different?
Make no mistake, it’s vastly different from what Google claimed it would be. Just ask anyone who studies their Google Analytics data. When a signed-in user performs a Google search, the search engine encrypts the data; the search shows up in GA as “not provided” rather than a search for a particular keyword. If the number of “not provided” searches grows too high, SEOs and marketers can no longer tell what effect, if any, their marketing efforts are achieving. For many websites, the data – or lack of it – reached that level months ago.
Barry Schwartz writing for Search Engine Land cited a study conducted over eleven months by Optify. Covering 424 websites, 17,143,603 visits and 7,241,093 referring keywords, the percentage of “not provided” keywords has risen alarmingly. According to the study, Google withheld 39 percent of search terms – that’s one out of every 2.5 visits!
That’s not even the worst news. The study noted that about 13 percent of companies see “not provided” rates as high as 60 percent. Can you imagine if all you knew about more than half of your visitors was that they found you in Google, but you had no idea for which terms? Sadly, I know a number of you don’t need to imagine it, because it’s your current reality.
Why are the numbers so much greater than Google originally said they would be? Danny Sullivan offered some suggestions. He notes that “as Google has continued to grow its Google+ social network, it has encouraged people sign-in as much as it can…All those signed-in searches have keywords withheld.” Also, in July, Firefox started using Google SSL Search by default – whether or not users were actually signed in to a Google service. “Overnight, a huge chunk of search terms got withheld,” Sullivan observed. Two months later, Apple copied Firefox’s move for searchers using Safari in iOS 6.
Perhaps one of the more interesting points about the “not provided” data is that the percentages aren’t consistent. Some websites are seeing a very small percentage of visits where Google is withholding keyword information, while others are seeing nearly all of their keyword information withheld. What is responsible for this vast difference?
Matt O’Toole at Analytics SEO offers up a tantalizing theory. He studied data for several hundred websites being monitored by his company over the past year, and found an overall “not provided” average of more than 20 percent by September 2012. This reflected steady growth from an initial three percent “not provided” during the first couple of weeks after Google began encrypting data. But not all websites came close to that percentage. One website showed consistently low “not provided” traffic all year long, at around one tenth of one percent. Another website showed a peak of “not provided” traffic around 98.4 percent!
Could these outliers provide clues as to what kinds of sites might naturally see low or high “not provided” percentages? O’Toole thought the demographics data might be telling. He found that the website with the low “not provided” rate featured a user base of males aged 45 to 64 years. The one with the high “not provided” rate, on the other hand, appealed to females aged 25 to 44 years. This led him to ask “whether there were certain demographics more likely to be logged into Google+/GMail and therefore more likely to be contributing to your site’s Not Provided traffic?” Sure enough, looking at the demographic data for Gmail, he found that a high percentage of its users were both males and females between the ages of 18 and 34.
O’Toole suggested that marketers might be able to use this knowledge in their efforts going forward. “For instance, were your site to be below the norm in terms of Not Provided averages, you could assume that your userbase might be less likely to have Google+/Gmail accounts and therefore less likely to take any notice of the work you planned to do on your client’s Google+ page,” he observed.
What else can you do if you’re facing this kind of data blackout? You need to use the information that Google hasn’t encrypted. Look at the landing pages for your “not provided” traffic, and consider what’s making them so attractive. Use the keyword data that you DO have. And try to avoid making the wrong assumptions. Sadly, it looks like “Not Provided” isn’t going away any time soon, so you need to make the best of the situation. Good luck!
Governments all over the world want to get their hands on user data from Google for a variety of purposes. Google started tracking the number of these requests in 2010, and has released these numbers in transparency reports every six month. This week, with the search giant’s sixth transparency report, it’s clear to see that these requests are increasing.
You can read Google’s official blog post summarizing the report, or go directly to the user data requests section of the full transparency report. You might also be interested in the government removal requests section of the report.
Just how bad has it gotten? Requests for data from governments have shown a steady increase, from 12,539 when Google began reporting them in 2010 to 20,938 in this week’s report. The number of requests doesn’t quite tell the full story, though, since one “request” can ask for multiple pieces of information. Those 20,938 requests “were for information from about 34,614 accounts,” according to Google.
The trend from governments to request removal of material from Google, on the other hand, looks a little more complicated. Google says that it “was largely flat from 2009 to 2011.” It jumped in this reporting period, however. The search engine’s chart showed 1,048 removal requests for the six-month period ending in December 2011. From January through June 2012, “there were 1,791 requests from government officials around the world to remove 17,746 pieces of content.”
Google’s transparency report includes some nice interactive elements. For example, the table that lists removal requests can be sorted by country, number of requests, percentage of compliance, and more. Not too surprisingly, the United States heads the list for number of court-ordered requests for removal, as well as items requested to be removed – however, the search engine complied with less than half of these court-ordered requests. Its compliance was much higher for certain other countries.
Why would Google not comply with a content removal request? “Some requests may not be specific enough for us to know what the government wanted us to remove…and others involve allegations of defamation through informal letters from government agencies, rather than court orders,” Google explained. Also, the search engine noted in its FAQ that they sometimes receive falsified court orders, “and if we determine that a court order is false, we will not comply with it.”
User data requests from governments may be more worrisome. All countries seem to be showing an up trend here, with the United States leading the pack. In the six-month period covered in the report, the US government made 7,969 requests for user data covering 16,281 accounts – and Google fully or partially complied with these requests ninety percent of the time. These numbers represent more than a third of all user data requests made worldwide – and close to half of the accounts covered in user data requests.
So if you have a Gmail or other Google account, should you be worried? That depends on whether you’ve committed a crime, or have a close association to someone who has. According to Stewart Baker, a former assistant secretary at the US Department of Homeland Security, “The government can’t just wander through your emails just because they’d like to know what you’re thinking or doing.” As he explained to the Associated Press, though, “[I]f the government is investigating a crime, it has a lot of authority to review people’s emails.” Even so, the trend is very clear: governments want more information about you, and may be beginning to rein in some of the free-flowing data online. Still, given the sheer size of the Internet, there’s no need to get paranoid yet.
Are you looking for a way to get your local business website more noticed in the search engines? Consider writing a blog, especially if your competition doesn’t have one. Though they can be a lot of work, they can also bring you a slew of benefits.
Chris Silver Smith covers this very well in a guest post for Search Engine Land. He makes the case that many local businesses aren’t blogging yet, which means that a well-written and well-maintained blog can take you over the top – even if you and your rivals have already done all the typical tasks involved in improving your local SEO.
How can you improve your local SEO efforts by blogging? Well, to start with, writing regular blog entries means you can jump right on any timely news items or events. Google’s spiders raise their antennas for any whiffs of fresh content, so you’ll attract their attention. You’ll also attract the attention of human visitors – and if they interact with you, you’ll set those Google antennas quivering even more. “User interaction signals can give your site a higher prominence score in Google local algorithms,” Smith notes.
Humans do more than interact on your site, though; they also tell their friends about you, linking back to your blog posts. These unsolicited links give your site a unique profile – the kind that can’t be bought, and that Google really appreciates.
With an active blog, you can interact with more than just the visitors to your website who choose to comment. You can also link to other bloggers and comment on their blogs. It’s a very popular way to continue the conversation. If you’re really good (or lucky), they may even visit and leave a comment, or link back to you.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to blogging for your local business website is that it provides you with a platform. You can use this platform as the “voice” of your company if it ever gets attacked online. You can jump into exciting news related to your industry from your blog. You can even link to blog posts from other social media sites to promote your business.
So how do you get started? Smith offers a number of simple recommendations. First, go ahead and use WordPress as your blog’s content management system. It’s already quite search engine friendly, and you can easily find add-ons to make it even more so. It’s a good idea to check with an SEO to help you decide which of these (if any) you should use, and to walk you through the basics.
You can usually choose from a variety of themes for your blog. Given the way Google has been treating links in the post-Penguin era, it makes sense to stay away from themes that don’t let you remove or nofollow links to the designer’s website.
Some site owners wonder if they should set up a separate website for their blog, and point it to their business website. Don’t do it! You want to attract links directly to your business website, not to some other website that then, in theory, boosts your business site. You can put your blog into a dedicated subdirectory or even a subdomain, but make it part of your business website.
Once you get your blog set up, post regularly. Not everyone can manage a post every day, and that’s okay. If you can only do a post once a week, that’s fine. But it’s important to be consistent; that trains Google and your human visitors to expect fresh content. Also, you don’t need to post a novel every time; to be honest, hardly anyone has that kind of attention span online. So if you can only manage three or four paragraphs, do that much – but make them count.
Finally, make your posts interesting and entertaining – and remember that this will probably mean taking your blinders off. Just because you’re an accounting professional, for example, doesn’t mean all of your blog posts need to cover close readings of the tax code, the 1040 and other forms, and various deductions. That’s enough to make ME yawn – and my dad was a CPA in both New York and Florida. You can write about interesting moments in tax history or weird tax facts, like why the folks in Massachusetts and Maine sometimes get an extra day to file their taxes. A little research can turn up some very cool stories. Tell them well and regularly, and you’ll attract all the traffic you can handle. Good luck!