Google Has No Clothes Part Six – End Of The Road

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You

Google changes and what they mean for you

Just create great content!

Google’s response to the thousands of objections to its algorithm changes has been the same for a while now – stop complaining and just create great content. Google will help new clients find you if you create ongoing original and useful content, which is well within the reach of most professionals. If you want to know how to do it, check out our free eBooks on blogging for professionals, writing blogs in plain English, and the 20 rules for creating a great blog post. It seems a daunting task but it’s really not, but please get in touch if you require assistance.

Mature professionals and smaller professional firms know all about the rules of content (you may not realise this, but you do!) It’s encompassed in the way they explain arcane concepts to their clients. As a lawyer I used to do a lot of appearance work in courts. Often clients would tell me that they did not comprehend a lot of the interaction between the lawyers or the lawyers and the Judge, in fact they often felt like spectators, not participants. But they never said that about my interactions with them when we were in my office or on the phone. The vast majority of professionals are already expert at explaining complicated (or proprietary) issues in plain English, and this is the essence of good content marketing as well.

Take a Buddhist approach

Like it or not, these changes to Google and search engines will continue. This is easier to take if you are apply the basic Buddhist precept that everything changes all the time, or you are particularly sanguine when it comes to change. For the rest of us, we have to accept that we are now are entering the age of the search engine conversation, instead of (what has been till now) more circumscribed queries. In other words, Google wants to read and decipher natural language. It also wants to read what is on your clients’ minds.

But again this is good news for the mature professional or smaller professional firms because Google is trying to do what you already know, predict the intentions of its users when they search for a professional service. You deal with those client intentions every day. The professional content that will be king in the future is the content that addresses the real needs of real clients. Can you articulate those needs? Of course you can, and thankfully you can do it with less emphasis on all the technical search engine professional manipulation that used to be important but is now sinking into the sunset where it belongs.

As author Joe Pulizzi  notes:

So if you want to be found in search engines today, it’s almost impossible to game the system (sometimes called “black hat search engine optimization”) without a solid content marketing strategy.

Yes, SEO is still crucial for the larger players who can afford it, but for smaller professional firms it’s time to place your reliance on your substantial  communication skills. More and more service professionals – lawyers, accountants, superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – will know about content marketing because it will soon enough (to be blunt) be the dominant marketing game in town.

How will it end

An excellent article in socialmediatoday makes this salient point:

So, what does this mean for businesses? Nothing has really changed. The same advice we’ve been giving for years is still as relevant as always: always put the user first…Another thing worth mentioning is that because Google has become really good at understanding what a piece of content is about, there’s no need to stuff a bunch of keywords and synonyms on a page. Remember: the user comes first. Build a great resource for your users and Google will reward you for it.

You may know the story of the sign that adorned the wall of the so-called War Room in the campaign headquarters of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential run against then incumbent George H. W. Bush. At one time following the Gulf War, with stratospheric approval ratings, Bush was considered unbeatable. Clinton’s chief strategist James Carville hung a sign to keep the campaign team on message – “It’s the economy, stupid”. His motive was not to remind the team it lacked intelligence, in fact they were the best and the brightest, he placed it there as a reminder of the obvious.

Sometimes, in our professional lives, we too need to remind ourselves of what is right before our eyes. For your website, it’s the content.

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Google Has No Clothes Part Five

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You

Gogle search changes

Standing on our own professional feet

Here’s my response to the Google move away from technical SEO towards a content-oriented search – it’s good news for smaller professional firms and mature professionals. All it does is place the emphasis where it belongs, in the deep wellspring of your own expertise – your highly honed ability to communicate with clients. It elevates word of mouth, and word of mouth is where you have the opportunity to shine. Not only can you continue to leverage that advantage with well written website content, but Google is now running right alongside boosting those efforts!

Maybe, just maybe, it’s a long-overdue switch to a new form of user insight that may prove to be far more useful than keywords. Elise Gould

An intelligent search engine

The movement away from keyword analysis is also a move from a “dumb” search environment to a smart one – think your old Nokia compared to your iPhone or Android. This is a move towards a search engine culture where Google looks to discern the intent of the searcher.

“Context” is also now a factor – where are you located? On what type of device? What are your local issues? This emphasis on intent and context underlies a lot of what Hummingbird seeks to accomplish. This is search that is more relational, sometimes called the semantic web. Think of Google as wanting to conduct a conversation with searchers – in other words, search is becoming more conversational:

In an article in the Guardian, Google’s CEO Larry Page said that they are trying to reduce every possible friction between the user, their thoughts, and the information they want to find (Josh Smith).

It is also an acknowledgement that the search environment has changed. Where once searchers typed one or two word search queries, they now ask questions, or use the search box to narrow their own ideas of what they want. Isn’t that what you do, too? So clearly you need to be able to discern your reader’s intent and write for that. That’s great, because that is precisely what professionals already do. How many times has someone walked into your office unsure of what they really need? After a short time together, how often have you explained to a client that they need something other than what they imagined? We might call this your “intent research”. You help them discern their intent, it’s the essence of a good client interview.

The downside for professionals

The bad news? The attraction of SEO was always that it was a technical fix. You could pay someone to do it for you, which usually meant a few keywords and a lot of dubious links. Those avenues are now largely closed. Though a content strategy is therefore paramount, and content marketing is at the fore, it is not the quick technical fix that SEO companies previously offered.

Those who let themselves be defined by Google can now be seen scrambling to redefine themselves. “Inbound marketers” is one term being used a lot. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, although you’d be hard pressed to call it Search Engine Optimization. It’s PR. It’s marketing. It’s content production. The side effect of such activity might be a high ranking in the search engines (wink, wink). It’s like Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is……(SEO Book).

I think this is a good thing, because it forces professionals to answer the questions that turn their minds to the best way to communicate with clients in the age of the internet – what is your ideal client profile; what makes your firm unique; what exactly is our business?

As well, it coalesces nicely with the relational aspects of marketing for professionals. We are selling our services, not a physical product like a car or a dishwasher, and the changes to Google appear to make the process more human.

In Part Six we’ll finish our series with a glance towards thge future. .

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Google Has No Clothes Part Four

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You

Google algorithm changes

The main game is content content content

Yes, making sense of the changes to the Google algorithms is helpful (though I think this is only really possible by experts), but from everything Google tells us, the main game is now content, content, content. If it was important before, it is now the crucial determinant of your online success.

This is where your experience as a mature professional comes to the fore, and where the trajectory of Goggle intersects with the hard-earned relationship skills of so many mature professionals, especially smaller firms. It is also where smaller firms can use content marketing to leverage that experience into greater word of mouth that elevates them and distinguishes their firms from the more anonymous larger players.

Google encrypts search

Another setback to technical search analysis is Google’s decision to redirect all traffic to an encrypted search. This means that you can no longer determine how a person comes to your site i.e. what keywords they use to get there. This has been a trend at Google since late 2011, but it is now entrenched. In other words, you can find out how many visitors came to your site, but you don’t know what they were searching for. As you might imagine, this is a significant blow to any sort of useful analysis.

The Google Hummingbird update is the latest in a long trend of downgrading the supremacy of mechanical keyword analysis. I’ve written about keywords and how they affect the Google ranking of your firm, but in short, historically keywords have been central to the whole SEO enterprise, and like it or not, had to be addressed if you wanted to be found. For years proper keyword research has been touted as the difference between the rankings of website pages that are architecturally and structurally similar.

There are myriad tools to find appropriate keywords, there are many more SEO companies happy to do it for you. If you looked at SEO a few years ago you would have known you needed a keywords strategy, which would have been either developing a talent for the use of keyword tools or outsourcing to the experts or doing nothing – most likely the latter. Keywords analysis was king – and queen, rook, bishop and knight. But no longer.

Predictably,SEO companies feel betrayed by Google’s latest changes. As one SEO expert and provider succinctly concluded:

For many SEOs, this sort of change might feel like a betrayal of the symbiotic relationship Google has had with website owners where Google makes copies of website content and then organizes it into search results so they can then run ads next to it.  In return, Google provides various services and access to data for free – like organic search keywords data. Not any more. (TopRank)

As a smaller professional relying on free keywords tools, and without the resources to look to professional SEO, you would be entitled to feel the same. The Age newspaper’s brilliant tech writer Charles Wright (a hero to writers) calls this “the most devastating of these technology-induced disorders”

He’s right. You might ask yourself, “if professional SEO companies are struggling to overcome Google’s movement away from keyword analysis, what hope do I have?” In that case you would have a point. Wright describes the symptoms of a friend as SEO Syndrome:

Like most people in the grip of SEO Syndrome, his attempts to master the complexities of improving the performance of a website in Google’s search results heightened his feelings of alienation, particularly when he became aware that all his efforts could suddenly be made worthless by radical, and apparently random, adjustments to the algorithms that determine a site’s visibility.

Are you too suffering from SEO Syndrome? Does the thought of more changes down at Google HQ send you running to the bathroom medicine cabinet?

In Part Five I’ll look at the answer to this emerging syndrome, and drugs are not part of it.

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Google Has No Clothes Part Three

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You

Google animals run wild

Then along came Panda. Why does Google choose the names of fauna for their updates? Here apparently is the answer:

Believe it or not, Google named the 2011 quality update “Panda”, not after the endangered animal, but after one of the engineers responsible for the algorithmic breakthrough – Navneet Panda. It’s unclear how they came up with the name for the over-optimization update of 2012, but it seems they just decided to stick with the animals starting with the letter “P”, and so the Penguin was born…. er, hatched.

This Google algorithm update in February 2011 banished low quality sites from the Google realm. Penguin, released in April 2012, then went to town on sites that boosted their rankings with the use of dubious linking methods (content farms and the like). They also targeted keyword stuffing – which is exactly what you imagine i.e inelegantly cramming keywords into your posts – and duplicate content (using the same or similar content in your site again and again).

This is why SEO providers which offer “affordable SEO” supplying backlinks and developing comments should now be avoided more than ever. Be careful of anyone who does not have legitimate industry experience and keep an eye on their geographical location – I think it is best to deal with a domestic provider, although many Indian (as an example) companies do great work. As a rule, you will get what you pay for.

Quick change algorithms

The good boffins down Hubspot estimate that Google changes it’s algorithms 550 times a year (!!!). I don’t know how this is possible, because it suggests some very dedicated algorithmic-centric (obsessed) people at Google are tweaking their backsides off ten times a day seven days a week. This should at the least make it clear that you have no control over the situation. As the Buddhists have known for eons, sometimes it’s best to accept the relentlessness of change and let it all go – in other words, resistance is futile.

It does serve to again prove the point that good online writing, especially reader-oriented articles that are genuinely helpful, have a very long shelf life and represent a far better place to invest your energies. And honestly, if you concentrate on rankings, which are subject to fluctuations for reasons beyond your control, it really will drive you crazy! But worse, it detracts from the main game, and for professionals that is enhanced client relationships. For smaller and mature professionals, it is only content marketing that both helps your clients and helps your rankings.

Why should you care?

Look, if you are a regular reader it’s more than likely you are a mature professional, the principal in a small professional firm, or both. So the question you are entitled to ask is, “should I care about any of this stuff?” The easy answer is no. If you are a professional with a small firm (that’s most professionals in Australia) then you already know what your clients want – good information and good service. For you, good content is good SEO. So stay right away from the SEO hucksters who promise the world but will more likely see you penalized by Google.

Which means that there is essentially good news for smaller professional firms in all of this. You already know what drives business your way – it’s word of mouth. And the drivers or word of mouth are well known – the extra effort that enhances client relationships; the means to broadcast a reputation based on earned trust; giving clients an holistic experience, including added value information or appropriate referrals to other professionals; plain English information that makes the decision-making process much easier and promotes trust; exceeding client expectations.

In Part Four I’ll look at the good news in all of this for mature professionals and smaller professional firms.

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Google Has No Clothes – Part Two

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You

Keywords and the search for meaning

I’ve written an eBook about keywords, so you would think I have a vested interest in their central role as a determinant of search engine ranking. I don’t. In fact I hate them. Have you tried to write an article or a blog post or content for your website with one eye on the volume and placement of particular words? It may be a relevant skill, bit it certainly kills the creativity of writing.

The change, which represents a new approach to search for Google, required the biggest changes to the company’s search algorithm since 2000. Now, Google, the world’s most popular search engine, will focus more on trying to understand the meanings of and relationships among things, as opposed to its original strategy of matching keywords (New York Times)

You can spend forever looking for the best keywords. You can use them, test them, drill down into them, change the syntax and form. You can research what keywords your opponent uses. You can slice, dice and bake with them, but there will come that morning when you discover that the Google ground rules have changed yet again. If you are a smaller professional firm that has relied on keywords to attract eyes to your site, there is bad news, because the way Google brings that traffic has shifted. According to Google, the result for consumers will be a more precise search result. But if your search engine optimisation (SEO) has relied on keywords, for you it means a major hassle.

Even if the place of keywords had not been downgraded, Google has made sure they are not easy to find unless you are part of paid search. If you just want to rely on organic search (where you don’t pay to be ranked higher) then the most prominent tool for this, the Google Keyword Tool, is no longer available.

Bye bye to backlinks

So keywords are no longer as relevant nor as accessible. Now here’s the kicker for mature professionals and smaller Australian professional firms, which represent the largest group of professionals, who cannot afford the big dollars for commercial SEO. If you are going to spend money on SEO, then be prepared to spend more. Apart from keyword research, in the past a cheapie way of getting a better Google rank was to “buy” backlinks – the links from other websites to your own that are so prized by Google. This was originally the backbone of the Google experiment, which looked at how many sites linked to you in order to establish your site’s credibility. This was somewhat based on the idea that the authority of academic papers is established in part by the number of other academic papers that cite it. With Google, substitute “other academic papers” with “links back to your site”. At the time of Google’s launch this was a revolutionary idea in website search.

One of the results was the inevitability of “gaming the system”. This meant that so-called “link farms” created artificial authority for websites, pushing up their rankings. Link spam (spamdexing) was also popular. Whether paid blog networks, reusing unique content by changing certain words, and automatic blog (and forum) posting, all are cheap methods to create links back to your site.

In Part Three I’ll explain how this too has come to an end.

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Google Has No Clothes – Part One

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You

Google changes course (yet) again

Have you heard about the latest changes to Google? No, it’s not that nifty logo (the Google doodle) they use to celebrate everything from the 50th anniversary of The Beatles to Korean Thanksgiving Day to the Australian elections. This is more serious, and it might affect you as a professional who wants to improve the performance of your website. At the least it says a lot about the ascendancy of Google.

Many professionals, certainly those looking to create an online edge, nowadays keep an eye on Google’s every move – and really, that can be a full time job. Though they may start by looking at website content marketing in a cursory way, before long they are searching for the latest insights as to why Google does what it does (as though anyone really understands this). This will always be an exercise in frustration.

Algorithms algorithms, make me a match

And so it is with a sense of inevitability we find that Google has announced yet another major change to its algorithms. As the New York Times noted, this affects 90% of searches. It also affects your brain because it is impossible for the average professional, especially those of us of more mature years, to keep up with these changes or place their significance in an appropriate context. We’re told (harangued) to concentrate on search engine optimisation, and then after mastering some of those basics, or worse paying a lot of money for someone else to do it for us, we learn that the rug has been pulled out from under us and it’s time to readjust. Again.

This seems to be a litany for mature professionals – we are warned to adjust to the modern world of social media and the proliferation of search engines (Google) as the preferred directory for prospective clients. Or else. This implicit threat is backed up by some frightening numbers – according to Pew Research, 83% of internet users are tethered to Google. If this feels a little like blackmail – it’s the Google way or the highway – then you are right, but Google is right as well, because in part their aim is to improve the search experience for consumers.

It’s all quite confusing.

It’s a load of….

I’m not an SEO (search engine optimisation) expert. I’m a lawyer and a writer and someone who has developed a particular interest in the ability of mature professionals and smaller professional firms – Australian lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – and how we deal with the imperative to put everything online.

It’s go online or die, and just being there is no longer enough, we have to do it with aplomb and a serious dedication to the rules of Google and their omnipresent algorithms. So when I look at the latest pronouncement from the Google algorithm department, what I see is vindication for a view I have held since I started closely looking at these issues a few years ago. It’s all a lot of hooey.

In Part Two I’ll explain why.

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