Google’s search engine results change constantly, keeping us marketers on our toes. While it used to be prized territory, a No. 1 ranking doesn’t look the same as it did six or 12 months ago. Search results are filled with more noise than ever, with local listings, multiple paid search placements, rich snippets and Map Packs. It’s time for a unified digital strategy in order to really gain the attention of customers.
In Atlanta – my hometown – here’s what a search for “marketing agencies” delivers. Three paid ads stack the top of the page in addition to the traditional right rail of ads. (Even now Google is rolling out a huge change to the way AdWords ads are displayed, eliminating most right-rail ads.) We also see a Map Pack, which is typical for location-based searches, but is frequently displayed now when you search for service-based terms such as “plumbing.” You’ll even find the Map Pack popping up when you search for products in some instances. The number one organic search listing for “marketing agencies in atlanta” didn’t make the screenshot on my 13-inch MacBook. It’s below the fold.
What a difference a year makes. Here’s what the same phrase yielded a year ago, courtesy of Google’s Search Tools feature. The ads are condensed, there isn’t a Map Pack and the first two organic search results appear above the fold on my screen.
It’s pretty obvious that a one-dimensional digital strategy that traditionally relied on organic search just doesn’t cut it now.
Considerations For Your Multichannel Presence
Each channel is important in its own independent way, but customer behavior has always been the driving force behind the changes Google makes to its search results display.
Be sure that your SEO strategy is firing on all cylinders and that your business is doing everything it can to show up in all types of Google results. This means you need to consider Android App Indexing, Knowledge Graph opportunities, and Map Pack results by utilizing Google My Business. For SEO, the hard truth is that a traditional No. 1 organic ranking may not bring as much traffic to your site as it did a year ago – unless your audience has a tendency to find and click on organic listings no matter what displays above them. You may also want to reevaluate how you attribute metrics like traffic and revenue to SEO. With technology like the iPhone Spotlight search, some mobile traffic that should be considered organic search is likely being bucketed as direct.
If Facebook’s Reachocalypse proved anything, it’s that marketers have to consider paying to reach their audiences. The evolution of SERPs shows the same trend – it’s probably time to consider paid search, even if it hasn’t traditionally been a channel for your business. Even if you have utilized paid search, Google’s changes should force a reevaluation of your paid approach. More than ever, your paid and organic strategies should align so you can balance organic performance against paid search targets. Even if you rank No. 1 for a term organically, you need to evaluate the search landscape for that phrase. Is it worth doubling down to appear on that SERP twice? Augmenting organic with paid may be particularly beneficial if your organic listing falls below the fold for a search phrase. Regardless of your confidence in your paid and organic strategies, tools like User Testing can help determine how your target audience interacts with the search results. Multivariate tests can help you figure out if your audience is more inclined to click on the first listing they see, scroll to find the organic listing, or interact with the page in an entirely different way. The results can lead to an informed decision about your paid search strategy as it relates to your organic rankings.
Search isn’t limited to Google; customers increasingly use social channels as search tools. This isn’t new, but these SERP changes create new opportunities for brands to really nail and benefit from their social presence. Utilize your social accounts to demonstrate your brand’s persona and create a memorable experience for customers. Two-way communication with customers and memorable hashtag campaigns can help customers think of your brand first when using a social search engine. It’s a multichannel win when branded organic entries and visits increase for your website.
Omnichannel marketing is critical for a brand looking to leave a lasting impression with customers. Cultivating a brand across TV, print and radio, can help to lead more people directly to your website or help drive people to your site via branded search. This brand awareness can help cut through the noise, and signal Google that you’re a vital resource for its users.
Once a customer arrives on your site, a positive user experience will keep them coming back. Positive user behavior will also send good signals to Google and help your organic search efforts.
Create an email collection and distribution strategy that delivers truly valuable information to your customers and potential customers. If you can target customers with behavior-based emails through marketing automation, go for it. These days, the brands that can deliver a message that really gives customers information they’re looking for will be top of mind. This also means that on-site content is extremely valuable. If your site offers authentic, helpful and entertaining content, you can repurpose it for email and use that content as a landing page for email campaigns. Sites like Apartment Therapy offer a shining example for curated content repurposed for its email campaigns.
Smart Brands Have Figured This Stuff Out
When you search for flights, Southwest doesn’t allow aggregate sites like Kayak, Expedia, or CheapOair display its fares. As a result, clicking through to an aggregate site page you likely won’t see Southwest in competitive pricing results. So what does Southwest do about it? They bid on those same organic phrases that aggregate sites rank for and ensure it gets face time with potential customers. Even if a customer does click through to Kayak or Expedia, Southwest has kept its brand top of mind so that a deal hunter thinks to check the Southwest site too before booking. As a bonus, Southwest vigorously retargets customers via social media.
On Twitter, both Lyft and Uber have figured out how to connect with their customers by taking a personal and proactive approach to replying to tweets. I prefer Lyft’s GIF-heavy strategy, but both brands do a great job of making their customers feel listened to and interacted with. Customer loyalty is key.
When you search for a plumber in Atlanta, the Map Pack results aren’t the sites that rank on page one for organic search. Most aren’t in the right rail ads either. By setting up Google Places well these businesses have given themselves a leg up that they otherwise would not have.