Goolge Search plus your worldOne of the things I love about Search is how fast things change – almost every day I can log on, and there’ll be an excited group of people eagerly discussing all the latest changes to Google, Yahoo etc.  After a hectic 2011, we’re already off to a flyer in 2012 with Google’s latest (and somewhat awkwardly named) ‘Search plus your world’ feature.  Despite having a healthy level of interest in these types of developments myself, I can’t help thinking that too many of my counterparts are reading far too much into the implications of this ‘transformation’.

The last six or so months has probably seen the most serious attempt yet from Google to integrate social into their proposition – so it’s hard to ignore this change, especially if you’re involved in social media. But will it really affect search for the majority of queries that your clients or boss cares about?

It’s easier to think that Search is now very different from how it was maybe twelve months ago, but the reality for most of us, is that it’s actually not much different. The problem stems from the fact that there are so many vested interests in making people care about these developments (the search engines themselves, the industry press, discussion boards, clients etc) that it’s almost impossible to ignore them and get sucked into the frenzy.

That’s not to say that any of the above mentioned changes won’t influence the strategies and tactics of many marketers– they almost certainly will in some cases. But the level of impact to the average SEO I suspect is probably a lot milder than many of us would admit.

Just like with blended search, the changes of the last year don’t change the fact that there is a large pool of people who, at any given time, want to buy a product or service – and their quest for this product will start with a search. So when somebody who wants to update the windows in their new house searches for double glazing, they will mostly click on the relevant provider(s) of the product – seeing results from their “circle” or “world” about a friend’s loft renovation project will probably have little impact on that users end destination. Equally, the lack of a suite101 post about double glazing probably won’t make much difference either (unless you were the author of that article, of course).

The bottom line is, many people outside of our industry just aren’t bothered with the fluff in the search engine results, and they just want to find a provider who can solve whatever need they currently have. Even if everybody did care about seeing what their ‘circle’ has to say about a product or service, it’s easy to overestimate their ability to see such information. Very few people have a Google account for instance, and even fewer have a Google+ account. Double glazing companies essentially need to be one of the first companies that a searcher clicks on and that requirement is unlikely to change.

Where I concede things may change is in things like reviews – where people can easily access high quality review (or review like) content about a particular product or supplier, they’ll probably do just that – and if the word about your brand isn’t especially positive, you can expect to lose some customers. Whether having a wealth of positive reviews, tweets etc should really be the SEO’s job though is highly debatable.

I’d also encourage any marketer (search or otherwise) to think very seriously about shareability. We will be encouraging and helping our clients to make their websites a lot more shareable. There’s a strong logic for encouraging sharing and distribution of key content assets, because it’s inevitable that more of this data will be folded into the main search algorithm, leading to better visibility of your brand with all users. If a social media strategy doesn’t help get our client in front of the vast majority of searchers, then it’s probably not the best use of time. Thinking about it another way, If only two per cent of people share their personal information with Google, and you can only get inside the circles of two per cent of those (which is probably ambitious) then your likely reach via search is tiny.

At a risk of repeating myself I would stress that my point isn’t necessarily against social media marketing as a whole – it’s not. Ultimately it’s about focus. For those whose brief is primarily search, I feel there are better opportunities. Search has always been incredibly powerful and scaleable due to its mass reach and ability to hit all demographics types. Most of our clients recognise this power and it’s this objective that steers our direction.

So if you’d planned to spend 2012 getting into people circles or invading their ‘world’ I ask you to consider whether this helps you in your end goal, or whether it’s just a distraction. Will the addition of this social tier to Google really alter the buying mechanics of your consumer? If not, then anything that distracts your attention from getting in front of them at the point of search will probably lower your chance of being successful.

Matthew Oxley

Matthew Oxley