Search marketing, one of the most venerable and trusted tools in the marketing kit, is ever-changing. Last month, for example, Google Inc. announced it will retool its search algorithms to display more prominent requests by people in queries.
“Semantic search,” while relying on traditional inbound links and relevant content, enables the search engine to understand the meaning of typed-in questions to return better answers. Microsoft Corp., whose Bing search engine also provides the technology for Yahoo search, already offers this feature. “Google is calling this the "next generation of search' and appears to be placing more precedence on facts and direct answers,” said Kenneth Wisnefski, CEO of WebiMax, an SEO company.
Wisnefski called the new moves “a call to action for marketers to re-evaluate their onsite and brand messages.” As Google implements changes throughout the spring, marketers will have “time to adapt their copy and prevent major damage to search rankings,” he said.
Perhaps even more significant in the long run was Google's January announcement to enhance search results with profiles, business pages and photos from its new Google+ social network, as well as its Picasa image-viewing site.
Called Search Plus Your World, Google's new search results display will include social posts and photos, users' social connections and Google+ pages related to special interest topics, all displayed along the right-hand rail where paid search results normally appear.
“What's fascinating is Google is taking what ordinarily would be ad space and replacing it with Google+ results, forgoing revenue in the short term in favor of the intersection of search and social,” said Kevin Lee, CEO of SEM company Didit.
It may prompt businesses to at least have a rudimentary presence on Google+ to not be left out of these new results.
“The biggest challenge for marketers with a fixed team and budget is to decide what to experiment with,” Lee said. “They don't want to fall prey to the shiny object syndrome.”
Also a factor is how marketers view the success quotient for each search marketing element used by their organizations. A BtoB study, based on an online poll of 508 b2b companies and released in February, found some surprises.
A well-optimized website was cited by 82% of marketers, while 64% listed social media. Blogs, e-newsletters, online videos, images and podcasts also ranked highly.
Mike Grehan, global VP-content with Incisive Media—whose brands include SearchEngineWatch.com, ClickZ.com and the SES Conference and Expo—said social networks, rich with user information, are also feeding more data to search engines, which will only increase.
“The data social networks have is all implicit information about the end user,” Grehan said. “This social overlay can make searches more personalized and verifiable.”
While social optimizes search, content is optimizing social—with search marketers placing value on strong content. But with Google's search algorithm change to improve recognition in newly added site ingredients, pressure to create fresh content is weighing on marketers.
“Google has sent a clear message that it is rewarding quality content,” said Troy Lightfield, a search marketing consultant at Brandpoint Inc.
Lightfield warned, however, that while fresh content may produce marginally better search results, strong content remains key to driving interest. “If you're going to blog, blog well,” he said. “I'd rather see two pieces of good content a week instead of five that are subpar.”
Another surprising find from BtoB's survey was marketers' general indifference to the dramatic increase in mobile usage. While respondents recognized the importance of mobile to their target audiences, 55% either had no opinion of its value to their search marketing efforts or dismissed it entirely.
(The study, “Search Marketing: The State of B2B SEO and PPC Practices,” is available at BtoB's Intelligence Center, www.btobonline.com/intelligencecenter.)