What your favourite search engine will look like soon
by Daniel Schmidt (@) There’s no doubt that search engines are one of the best ways to connect brands to their consumers and we’ve compiled a few developments that will continue to gain importance during the rest of 2017.
The constantly evolving nature of search engines means there are new and exciting opportunities around every corner. They depend on technology and, therefore, tend to advance at a similar rate. Algorithms are updated and rules are changed — often unannounced — so, to stay on top of the game, those in the field of search engines can never lose focus.
When the goal posts are shifted, search engine rankings are affected and this influences the way agencies and media owners carry out their search marketing operations. Even the most tech-savvy characters may be taken by surprise and predicting what the future holds can be a guessing game.
This is probably the biggest update for search engines in southern Africa and you’ll start seeing shopping ads when you enter a commercial query into the search engine. There is extensive testing happening to see which area of real estate is most effective for these ad units.
Shopping ads allow advertisers to promote merchandise on the search engine results pages (SERPs) with an image, a price and a description that will show up when a relevant query is entered. Priced as standard paid search ads with cost per click (CPC) bids, these are a highly effective way to advertise your e-commerce products on the search network and, if the price is right, expect to see good returns from shopping ads.
If the search engine is asked a question, Google programmatically detects pages that can answer the user’s question, and serves an answer in a “featured snippet”. A cousin of the knowledge graph, the featured snippet will carry on developing and changing the way marketers set up their on-page content.
Expect to see companies setting up content to answer consumer questions directly, with the aim of driving users to their landing pages. For example, imagine a question such as: “At what age should you get life insurance?” Insurance companies could set up pages with content aimed at answering this question. If the featured snippet outranks the top organic results, this is the most-effective option of driving quality traffic to their commercial pages.
Images in SERPs
Try a search for “beef stroganoff” and you’ll notice images which display on SERPs, next to their respective organic listings. Expect more marketers to take advantage of the “recipe” schema markup to enable these (recipe-rich snippet) pictures.
Web users have a lot of variety to choose from, and therefore extremely high standards! Ranking second and having a delicious-looking stroganoff could be more important than being at #1!
Click through rate still a massive ranking factor
Engagement continues to be a massive ranking factor on Google. In the screengrab, a query for “Senegal” triggers results that contain “Top Stories”. At the time of the query (late January 2017), this country was competing in the African Cup of Nations and there was political turmoil in neighbouring Gambia.
- A BBC Sport link outranks The Guardians link in “Top Stories”, for the query “Senegal”. This is strange when you consider that The Guardian’s article outranks the BBC Sport article with its organic listing (#2 and #4).
- The Guardian’s article is also fresher and contains the crucial keyword (Senegal) in the description.
- Both links are AFCON-related and outrank the political article on the Yahoo news network.
The rational way to analyse these results is to assume that the BBC Sport article was deemed the most relevant to the query, by virtue of Google users voting with their clicks. This seems to echo Rand Fishkin’s 2014 experiment, where along, with his audience, he tests the relevance of user engagement on organic rankings.
We may expect continued battles between the large publishers for those top three places, especially for newsworthy content on high-volume keyword queries.
Other interesting updates
According to Google, 55% of teens use voice search more than once a day. Another recent survey found that about 40% of smartphone users agreed that voice commands made using their smartphone easier, but the younger demographic were a lot more likely to use voice search in public.
As AI becomes more intelligent, expect voice search to have a significant impact on the way we find the things we’re looking for.
There are now more mobile searches than desktop on Google Search, but the algorithms still look at the desktop version of a page’s content to evaluate search rankings. Sometime this year, Google will roll out its debut mobile-first index.
These searches are on the rise and this year we expect users to be even more demanding — if someone searches Google for “toasted sandwiches”, they want the top result to be close by, to be open for business and have high ratings (Google reviews). This is before they’ve even walked in the door.
First impressions are so important for your brand, so make sure that your local SEO reflects who you are as a business, and increase your foot traffic.
Ads in position 1-4 on the search networks accrue 86% of the demanded impressions, leaving only 14% for positions 5 and lower. The bigger brands with more spending power will dominate the more-commercial query auctions but, with the right guidance and some clever tactics, new brands may push their way into those markets.
Advice and insights
- Your consumers have done most of the work — they are actively searching for the service you offer and you just need to give it to them. Search listings work best when site navigation is straightforward and the interface is user-friendly, so make sure you allow the consumer a simple process.
- Know your platforms and the applicable technologies. The more you offer brands and consumes, the better. Incorporate the latest tools into your search and know how to use them.
- Know your best practices (whether these come from industry specialist support or campaign experience).
- Use data! Experimentation is vital in areas such as search marketing that change so frequently. Data will continue to grow in importance, as it sheds light on the grey areas of digital media. When your experience gives you the ability to offer clients solutions, data empowers you to make sure that the results follow.
Daniel Schmidt (@) is head of search at Mark1 Media and is driven by the fact that search engine marketing requires constant focus. Search engines may seem simple on the front end, but he’s made it his mission to understand what goes on behind the scenes. He is passionate about consumer psychology and tries to learn something new every day.”
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