Super Bowl Sunday Crystal Ball

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Last week, I asked the musical question, "Are you keeping up with Google?" In that post, I tried to stimulate some thinking around the idea that waiting for the ranking algorithm to change is not the best time to begin doing something new in response. If you work that way, you are constantly feeling under the gun, like you can't keep up, and that you are always falling behind. Instead, I tried to get you to think about doing what is best for searchers and then waiting for Google to catch up with you. So, the question of the moment is, what should the smart search marketers be doing now? Let's consult the crystal ball to consider the biggest change that will come from Google next.

Now, understand, I don't have any inside information, and I have no way to prove that I'm right. If you wait long enough, I am probably bound to be right and if you look at things in a short enough time, I am bound to be wrong, but that is not even the point. I am writing this post so that I can help you think about what Google (and any other search engine) might be cooking up for its next revision on its ranking algorithm. In other words, these are the smart things to get ahead of instead of waiting for them to happen and then reacting in a frenzy:

  • Social media activity trumps links. Some of this might be already going on, for all we know, but think of how many problems would be solved if Google could discover the quality of search results based not only on the links each piece of content attracts, but also on the social media activity that surround those links. That activity not only tells you what is important, but also does so in real time to help you see something is trending. Today, many SEOs are paying for links to affect the rankings, so would social media activity be harder to manipulate and therefore add a check to the paid link manipulation? Search engines might be ready to find out. Smart search marketers might want to work on their social media footprint now instead of waiting for that shoe to drop.
  • Search results ranked by context. Will Google decide to give you different results when you are searching from a mobile device than from your computer? Searching for "coffee" might bring up Wikipedia from a computer and the nearest Starbucks from your phone. Might smart search marketers want to provide answers for all the different kinds of questions that searchers might have? Perhaps Starbucks should be putting out lot of information about coffee to compete with Wikipedia as an expert.
  • Search results ranked by conversion. It's one thing to see that people click on the results, but could commerce searches be ranked based on whether they buy something? Between the Google toolbar, Google Checkout, and Google Analytics, Google has many ways of seeing what sites sell more things based on each keyword, which might start to become an important part of why a site ranks higher. Wouldn't it make sense for Google to rank sites higher for commerce searches when people actually complete their purchases? If you though conversion rate was not important a long as you got conversions, maybe you are just waiting for Google to turn the tables on you.

Again, no secrets here. I am speculating on what kinds of things might happen. If you can identify an idea that might improve the searcher experience, you can bet that Google thought of it, too. Instead of waiting for them to implement it, perhaps you should be working to make things better for your customer and then waiting for Google to figure out the next turn of the algorithm crank. When the next shoe drops, you want to be ready.

So, smart readers, what else should we be thinking about? What are the other things that we know are good for searchers that we might be giving a lower priority to, just because Google doesn't reward them—yet? Let's share ideas and stay ahead of Google, instead of spending stressful careers in react mode.

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November 17, 2010

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Hi Mike--

It wouldn't surprise me if Google began to weigh social media activity, and I'm sure that doing so might be a valuable tool to see what is trending in some contexts. But I'm not so sure that whatever is trending is always a worthwhile measure of value or importance. I'm not necessarily disagreeing; I have doubts and just don't know.

Results ranked by conversion? Ugh! That would close out little peons like me. I hope they don't do that, not only for the sake of the little guy, but for the values of variety and entrepreneurship.

Hi Carol,

What's trending is not ALWAYS worthwhile, but it is worthwhile when someone is looking for breaking news. And which stories social media is pointing out might be the best ones.

Ranking by conversion rate wouldn't be tougher on small businesses than large ones. I know many small businesses with higher conversion rates than Wal-mart. If customers trying to buy things consistently abandon sites found in search, why should Google keep showing them?

Hi Mike,

Thanks for these hints and tips. Social media does seem like a logical next step, but I had to take a step back from getting obsessed with "the next big thing" and make sure I tempered with attention to good, solid content.

I'm with Carol on the "little peon" thought...because I am a small fish in a big ocean with my brand. Quick question, though, about conversions: I don't have Google analytics in my code because I use a different sort of shopping cart. I also don't use it because I didn't figure Google would weight me heavier if I did--something seemed not right about it. Do you think the Google gods will rely on that to determine conversions?

Hi Carolyn,

I am not sure why small companies would have anything to fear from conversion rate being an important factor in e-Commerce rankings. If your conversion rate is low, you are disappointing more searchers than someone else, so you need to improve your products, your offers, your prices, your message, your persuasiveness, your user experience--something--to disappoint fewer people, or else Google should send people elsewhere.

Google has many ways to determine conversion rate, of which Analytics and Checkout are two, but the Google Toolbar gives Google information on every site no matter whether you use those other tools or not.

I agree with you, but it seems like people waste a lot of attention on ranking rather then focusing on content. What we all hope is that eventually the structure of the internet will facilitate the delivery of the correct information to the end user.

There are a lot of people designing content for the current structure, but it really seems like the main push of Google is to get people off designing for the engine and get them designing for the end customer, like you said. My entire SEO activity is centered on getting the search engines to see my content for exactly what it is.

Hi Carolyn

Smart search marketers should focus on content. Without content, a website is a complete waste. I believe Google will focus on content more in the future than has been placed on it previously. Thanks for sharing this post. Very interesting.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > What's the next shoe to drop from Google?