September 29, 2013

Death of the Keyword?

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Back in 2009, Google told us that they do not use the keyword meta tag to index web pages or to rank the listings on search engine results pages.

Almost exactly two years ago (October 2011), Google announced they were “making search more secure.” They told us that in order to protect their users’ privacy, they would no longer share what search phrases were being used by people logged into Google. In other words, we could no longer see what many people were searching for to gage either the popularity of search phrases nor the amount of traffic coming into a site generated from specific searches.

The searches from search boxes in browsers also became encrypted increasing the number of search phrases “not provided” in tools like Google Analytics.

not-provided-search-queries

However, there is a loop-hole. Google does show these phrases in their Webmaster Tools but only for a limited time (currently 90 days, although Google says this will increase to one year).

Danny Sullivan, of SearchEngineLand.com, noticed that about 75% of search results he saw were encrypted and so he asked Google who responded saying that they are moving towards encrypting all searches, except for adclicks (hmmm…).

What Are The Takeaways?

I don’t think there is anything new to take away. Internet marketing companies that are run well with a long-term vision need not be concerned. The disclosure that we will not necessarily be doing keyword-based SEO for much longer both because of encrypted keyword data and the Hummingbird update may be a catalyst to a change in tactics, but the trends and best practices have not changed.

1) Never Depend on a Third-Party

We all have accountants and lawyers for our businesses, but they are not irreplaceable. It is bad business practice to be dependent on any one third-party. If your business is dependent upon Google or the information Google supplies, start innovating now!

2) Content is King

We’ve heard the phrase since the beginning of SEO, and we have seen a trend from Panda, to Penguin and to the latest Google algorithm update “Hummingbird” which was released on Thursday (Sept 26, 2013). Hummingbird focusses on contextual searches (“the meaning behind the words”), not specific search phrases or keywords. Earlier updates to Google’s algorithm and the training we have received first-hand from Google tell us that other signals including social and branding indicators are becoming increasingly important. Having good, sharable content is becoming of increasing value to search engine results, while optimizing for specific keywords is not.

3) Security vs Accessibility

There is always a trade-off between security and accessibility in the real world and on-line. If you own a jewelry store, do you leave the door open or do you have a buzzer to let people in? While having a buzzer may be an impediment to sales, it may also prevent vandalism and theft.

We now have more data about people than ever before. This can be used by the NSA to spy on people or by business to learn about (and target) their customers.

We are only at the beginning of this quandary. When we share our data, we get better service – be that personalized web content or “free” services such as Facebook, Google docs and GMail. However, we are paying for such services by providing a marketer’s dream of demographic information. It is difficult to know the correct balance and, in my opinion, it is absolutely scary to think that governments and law enforcement agencies can subpoena such data should they feel the need to go after individuals or specific groups within our society.

As consumers and as agencies, we should continue to proceed with open eyes both as to what data we are sharing and how we are using it.

4) Use An Integrated Marketing Mix

I believe that companies (both marketing agencies and their clients) shouldn’t depend on one type of advertising or promotion. In other words, agencies should offer an integrated marketing mix and their clients should take advantage of a variety of both off-line and on-line platforms as appropriate. Focusing only on SEO is narrow-minded especially the way the industry has been going over the last several years. It is impossible to do good professional SEO without also working on some level of content marketing and social media marketing. One can not determine the results without a good understanding of analytics and can not improve the bottom line without conversion rate optimization. Many SEOs also use PPC as a means to gather data before focusing on SEO campaigns (and given the recent news referred to here this will likely increase).

There is no doubt that Google is the main player in search. Google.com has about 67% of search market share, Bing has 18%, and Yahoo has 11%. However search is not always the best avenue to reach your goals.

SEO, PPC, SMM and CRO should be used together in a unified and integrated way to reach the best results. Not every platform is appropriate for every industry and audience so one should not limit oneself to only one marketing option.

In general, I believe we should be thinking in broader terms than keywords and search phrases. As we build relationships with our customer base and as we build our brand, keywords will become less and less relevant whether Google encrypts keywords or not.

Is this the death of keywords? No, but keywords are becoming less relevant every day.

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