There is no denying that Friday 19th February 2016 will go down as a pivotal moment for small and medium sized businesses and SEOs for several reasons.
- Many people who make their living from SEO will still be trying to digest what the changes will mean for them. Will this mark the start of diminishing returns from SEO?
- People who use Google search will be split on whether the changes to SERPS pages are a good or a bad thing. Will everyone be satisfied with seeing adverts dominate the top positions?
- Finally businesses who may already be facing a challenge navigating the increasingly sophisticated techniques involved in online advertising may find life even more difficult.
So what has Google done to ruffle the feathers of SEO and small businesses this time?
After gathering data from billions of searches, Google has decided to abandon unpopular sidebar ads and place an extra advert at the top of search engine results. So instead of getting up to 3 ads, you will now see four for what Google describes as “the most commercial queries”.
This sounds like a small change when at the end of the day few people clicked on the side of page ads. That is until you look a little deeper at the implications for everyone involved in Internet marketing.
Starting with SEO first…
Nobody can argue that the changes to SERPS will hit SEOs the hardest, why? Because nobody is going to see the top organic listing when they type in a keyword that has more than low level competition.
This morning I typed in the keyword “web design Liverpool”. What comes up is a series of adverts and the local pack of results relating to Google maps. The latter itself has only recently been changed to favour just three companies in a locality.
Scroll down further and you will eventually find the organic listings that will have earned the right to be there rather than purchased it.
In theory this helps companies who may not have high organic Google rankings buy a place above their competition but it may end up costing them more than before. As competition heats up for those top places, then logic dictates that costs will increase. Few businesses are going to be happy appearing in adverts at the bottom of page one or page two.
For SEOs, the implications are that services will need to expand to absorb PPC so that clients can be better served. As click through rates increase for ads and inevitably decline for organic listings, the services provided by SEOs will need to adapt and search engine optimisation will eventually become even more of a multi-skilled Internet marketing service than it is already.
It will no longer be enough for a business to just do SEO or content marketing in isolation, if both are compromised by being invisible on SERPs for commercial keywords as more adverts push organic results even further down the page.
When it comes to long tail search little will have changed. Content marketing will if anything become more important as a result of the big change in search results. The ability to craft content that reaches target markets will become more of a priority for SMEs in particular who will miss the luxury of their organic search rankings for commercial keywords appearing where people can see them.
Building up a library of content that answers user queries will be vital for many businesses who don’t want to rely 100% on Google advertising to maintain visibility.
What about the impact for users?
Google remains the number one search engine by some distance, so when it decides to do something it needs to do it with consideration for its users. Sometimes the lines between commercial needs and those of users become blurred.
Opening up search results only to be confronted by adverts and sometimes dubious maps listings will inevitably downgrade the search experience for many including myself. When I open up a set of search results I prefer to see the best results for that query as opposed to a business that paid to put itself there. Only those companies with the deepest pockets are likely to benefit.
Despite a rigorous process used by Google to vet the quality of landing pages, there are still poor quality landing pages making it to the top of the search results and no way to measure the quality of the goods and services provided by those companies. At least a high position on organic search means that a business earned the right to appear there.
And the impact for paid search?
Demand for the coveted top four places is likely to increase if there is no longer a sidebar displaying adverts.
There is no getting away from this. Google’s new less is more approach will only squeeze out smaller businesses who don’t have the necessary skills to run Adwords campaigns properly or craft the right kind of landing pages if they do manage to feature in the top for adverts on page one.
What can a small business do to limit the impact?
The answer is that business owners will need to adapt fast to regain visibility. They will need to certainly continue with SEO as advertising space becomes more limited and the cost of Google Adwords potentially rises with the increase in demand.
There should also be a greater emphasis put on the quality and volume of content marketing. Even when it comes to Google ads, outstanding landing page content will be required to get a sufficient ROI on adverts when competition is high.
There is no getting around the fact that what were once separate Internet marketing disciplines are slowly being pushed closer together making a unified digital strategy essential to the survival of businesses who have grown reliant on their websites to drive leads and sales.