Posts by Jon Clark:

European Commission Prepares Formal Antitrust Charges Against Google

European Commission Prepares Formal Antitrust Charges Against Google

The European Commission appears to be preparing to file formal antitrust charges against Google, according to the Wall Street Journal. As the European Union’s top antitrust authority, the Commission wields tremendous power in implementing and enforcing legislation that restricts companies from forming monopolies or depriving competitors of a fair share of the market.

While Google is an American company, the search engine maintains a strong web presence in European search markets–even more than in the United States. This makes Google subject to European business regulations, and entitles entities such as the European Commission to investigate any practices that are perceived to violate or fall out of line with those regulations.

This latest episode is not the first time the European Commission has explored legal action against Google, but it does mark the first formal charges filed against the company. While it is still possible that Google and the Commission may reach a settlement, it seems increasingly likely that the case will finally move forward.

Google Vs. the European Commission

Back in December, Fuze reported the latest in the antitrust investigation which had been ongoing for more than four years. On November 27, 2014, the European Parliament voted to separate Google’s search engine from its advertising businesses. The vote was symbolic–the Parliament has no legal authority to dissolve an American company’s properties–but it demonstrated an overall legislative attitude that placed pressure on the Commission to act. It falls well within the European Commission’s power to separate Google’s businesses, and the November vote had the potential to shape the course of the Commission’s investigation.

The case began in November 2010, when various European companies began launching confidential complaints against Google for its exertion of dominance over the search market. Amongst those complaints were allegations that Google had effectively formed an internet monopoly by emphasizing its own properties or those of its advertising partners’ in search results and limiting the web presence of competitor properties.

In light of the complaints, the European Commission was tasked with determining whether or not Google should “unbundle” their search engine from their other businesses to open search rankings up to competitors’ voices. Throughout the investigation, numerous solutions and settlements were proposed to avoid formal charges, with the European Commission even working with Google to placate the search engine’s opponents. Still, most proposals were dismissed by complainants as too lenient, and the investigation remained open with no real resolution in sight.

Cold Case? New Leadership Suggests New Consequences for Google

Throughout the investigation thus far, the European Commission has seemed to be on Google’s side. Jaoquin Almunia, Vice President of the Commission, was staunchly in favor of speedy settlements that avoided legal proceedings and benefited all shareholders. In one 2012 statement, he was quoted as saying, “these fast-moving markets would benefit from a quick resolution of the competition issues identified. Restoring competition swiftly to the benefit of users at an early stage is always preferable to lengthy proceedings.” In essence, Almunia sought to reach a compromise that satisfied all parties involved, including Google.

Propositions for a settlement reached by Google and Almunia often saw the company’s search and advertising businesses remaining intact. These solutions, the most notoriously attacked of which was known as rival links, often looked the same: Google retained its authority over search results, allowing them to prominently display their own advertising partners’ sponsored links, while relegating a fixed number of placements to be bid on by competitors such as Amazon. Studies commissioned by complainants in the investigation found these settlements to provide little additional value to competitors, and Almunia was criticized for his complacency in Google’s perceived monopoly.

Now, however, as antipathy grows towards Google in Europe, the almost five-year-long investigation is coming to a head. In March, the Wall Street Journal published a previously secret document that was part of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation into Google’s business practices. The FTC is the United States’ equivalent of the European Commission, and while they have never filed charges against Google, they did investigate the company back in 2012. This document is from that investigation, and alleges that Google repurposed content from other publishers (such as Yelp, Amazon, and TripAdvisor), and penalized them in search results when they prohibited Google from using their content.

The document released by the Wall Street Journal indicated that the FTC echoes much of the European Commission’s concerns, thus renewing the focus on Google’s practices. Did this document incite the Commission’s actions, or did the European Parliament’s symbolic vote to dissolve Google’s businesses actually hold sway over legislators’ decisions?

Late last year, Margrethe Vestager succeeded Almunia as Vice President of the European Commission, and under this new leadership, the Commission’s stance against Google appears to be hardening. Business Insider reports that the Commission is now asking for various companies’ confidential complaints against Google to be made public. According to the article,

“The specific document the EU is reportedly preparing is known as a Statement of Objections. Once filed, it could kick off several years more of deeper investigations, counterstatements, and settlement discussions. If the company and the EU cannot reach a settlement, the EU could then issue penalties, including fines and restrictions on Google’s behavior.”

The very fact that the European Commission is requesting to publish the complaints indicates they are in the final stages of gathering documentation to file charges. What lies ahead for Google remains uncertain. To reach a settlement at this point would require Google to make drastic changes to Universal Search, and any proposal would be met with even more intense scrutiny.

If they cannot settle, Google may be facing fines of up to 10% of their annual revenue–roughly $6 billion based on last year’s numbers. They would then have the right to appeal, but given the widespread sentiments against Google throughout the European Union, there is no guarantee they would win. By any measure, the conflict between Google and European search markets is far from over.

Mobile Search to Become a Ranking Factor in Google’s Algorithm

Mobile Search to Become a Ranking Factor in Google’s Algorithm

Google just announced two major updates to the search algorithm that will mean better rankings for mobile-friendly sites. Beginning on April 21, 2015, Google will start to include mobile-friendly factors in its rankings, allowing sites that are optimized for mobile search to rank higher for searches done on a mobile device. In addition, starting immediately, Android apps that are indexed by Google through App Indexing will also rank better in mobile search.

Google expects these change to have a “significant impact” on mobile search results globally and across all languages. They are postponing the mobile-friendly ranking update until April to allow webmasters enough time to prepare. Sites that are not currently optimized for mobile search must now, more than ever, pay attention to Google’s increased emphasis on mobile optimization.

As it is, these two updates indicate a rapid and important shift on the search engine’s part in responding to the growing number of searches that come from smart phones and tablets. As recently as January, Google began sending warnings to webmasters whose sites were not optimized for mobile, yet there was no indication that this was soon to become a ranking factor.

Still, this news does not come as a surprise to experts who have already been following the sustained uptake in mobile search in the last few years. Using mobility as a ranking factor seems like a natural progression for Google as we finally enter what many believe to be the “year of mobile.”

Have We Entered the Year of Mobile?

Digital marketing experts across the web are proclaiming 2015 the year of mobile. It’s been obvious for some time that trends in mobile search are on the rise: the percentage of web traffic driven by users on mobile devices has increased steadily over recent years, with consistent and sustained growth indicating that these patterns are likely to continue. In fact, VentureBeat has predicted that by 2016, mobile search queries will account for 61 percent of all site visits on the web.

As marketers, we’ve been hearing for a while now that each new year is the “year of mobile”, but these latest updates from Google mark a definitive new phase in web marketing. Not only are the trends speaking to themselves, but Google is responding by further integrating user behavior into search results to account for people searching more frequently on their mobile devices. The fact that Google has now incorporated mobile-friendly factors into its rankings, after years of speculation about the future of mobile search, proves that we are in fact in the year of mobile.

Mobile Tips for the Current Search Landscape

User experience is crucial to an effective mobile SEO strategy: ensuring that the content on your site displays correctly, not only on desktop, but across mobile devices. Neatly displayed, easily accessible content is key to mobile success. Think about how people are searching using their phones. They are on the go. They need quick answers. They need rich, visually stimulating content that won’t require them to slow in their pace to navigate dense text or a clunky layout.

To accommodate users without having to create multiple versions of the website, most sites turn to responsive design. A website built with a responsive design can “respond” to the type of device from which it is accessed. It’s layout can seamlessly adapt to display correctly on that device–be it a desktop computer, tablet, or smartphone. Content renders in different sizes and layouts depending on the size and orientation of the screen, so that users can interact with the same content regardless of their device. Content is easy to manage, and this eliminates the need to create multiple pages for multiple domains, thus keeping the page and link authority of the original site.

A responsive design is essential to the mobile user experience. When designing across devices, you should make sure that your site navigation is clean and not overly complex, and  prominently display key contact and location information. Your content should be easily digestible, and should incorporate a variety of both written and multimedia content.

Building a website around mobile is no longer just an option. A mobile-friendly, responsive design should be at the forefront of your web strategy if you want to compete in the growing mobile search market. Some actually argue that mobile optimization is more important than your focus on desktop. Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers even suggests that mobile should be your priority. According to DeMers, “the industry standard used to be to create a design that worked on standard computers, then to ensure it was accessible via mobile. However, many leading design experts are now suggesting that good design means concentrating on mobile first, and desktop second.”

It is one thing to hear about how mobile is changing the search landscape as a whole, but what does that mean to your own site? How much should mobile search inform your web strategy? In all likelihood, the answer is probably “a lot”, but don’t just listen to the industry’s take on the issue.

In order to truly understand how mobile search affects your site, and how to leverage this growing market, spend some time gaining insight into your own audience. Dive into Google Analytics to see how many of your visitors access your site from a mobile device. Do they use smart phones? How long do they stay on your site from their mobile device, and what kind of content are they consuming? Analyzing this data will help you serve your audience’s mobile needs by understanding their behavior and tailoring your content to provide the most value to them.

Twitter Confirms Deal to Share “Fire Hose” of Tweets with Google

Twitter Confirms Deal to Share “Fire Hose” of Tweets with Google

Twitter is set to begin sharing its full stream of tweets with Google, CEO Dick Costolo announced during an earnings call on February 5. The stream, referred to as the “fire hose”, will provide the search engine with access to data from over 284 million users, according to a Bloomberg Business report.

Google currently crawls Twitter for updates relevant to search queries, but with over 6,000 tweets posted per minute, it is impossible for the search engine to to pull them all. This new deal gives Google direct access to the fire hose–their entire stream of tweets–which allows Google to index tweets right as they are posted.

A New Deal: What does the Firehose Mean for Search?

While Google’s immediate indexing of live tweets is reminiscent of their experiment with Real Time Search, this new deal is quite different than the previous agreement between Twitter and Google. From December 2009 to July 2011, Twitter shared tweets with Google, and that data was largely the foundation of Google Real Time Search: an entire section of search results comprised of live social media updates that refreshed in real time.

This feature died quickly after the deal between Google and Twitter expired, and there was never any attempt to revive it–most likely so Google could avoid providing search results based on information they couldn’t depend on. Since then, tweets have appeared in search results, though not in real time, and they are usually only the most popular or authoritative tweets.

There are still very few details as to how this new deal will work, though it is likely that tweets will appear much as they currently do, with relevant posts integrated into search results. Only now, Google will have a more comprehensive collection of data to crawl. There is not likely to be a separate section of the search results for tweets, and even more unlikely that tweets will be given preference in rankings. However, while there will not be a real time section for tweets, the tweets that appear in a search result are likely to be the most current updates.

For Google, this deal is an important step in further tailoring search results to user’s individual queries. Tweets contain highly specific and timely content, so enhancing search results by providing access to real-time tweets diversifies the content users are exposed to, and potentially creates a much more relevant, useful search experience.

Search Meets Social: Twitter Recognizes the Value of SEO

Even before the deal with Google, Twitter began making an effort to drive more organic traffic to the site. Just last year, the company announced that they’d renewed their focus on SEO, making hashtag pages crawlable by search engines to allow searches for popular hashtags to rank. As a result, the number of logged-out users or non-users visiting the site increased to 75 million per month–ten times more than their previous 7.5 million per month. With this kind of organic traffic accounting for such a massive growth in monthly visits, the next logical step was for Twitter to make all its content available to Google–not just its hashtag pages.

This deal represents that increasing emphasis on non-user generated traffic. “We’ve got the opportunity now to drive a lot of attention to and aggregate eyeballs, if you will, to these logged-out experiences, topics and events that we plan on delivering on the front page of Twitter,” Costolo said during the earnings call. “And that’s one of the reasons this makes a lot of sense for us now.”

Essentially, Twitter is recognizing the value of organic traffic driven by people who are not logged-in, but visit the site to view new and relevant content. Ensuring that tweets from the fire hose appear in search results means that Twitter can easily distribute more content to a wider audience, and possibly tap into an entire market of potential users.

JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth tells Bloomberg Business, “the deal means more opportunities for Twitter to convert, and possibly monetize, logged-out users…it will also increase the frequency that people with Twitter accounts check the site.” While it does not appear that Google is paying for tweets, Twitter may still receive a data-licensing revenue–and the revenue generated by advertisements placed in front of a wider network of users means the deal can prove lucrative for the company.

The fire hose is not yet available to Google, but all speculation points to the likelihood that the deal will go into effect within the first half of 2015. Both companies have remained fairly tight-lipped about the specifics of the deal, but details will most likely be revealed in the coming months. There isn’t any direct action SEOs need to take right now with regards to their social strategy, but as more details emerge, we’ll provide more insight into ensuring that your tweets rank.

Knowledge is Power: Preparing for the Growing Importance of Google Knowledge Graph

Knowledge is Power: Preparing for the Growing Importance of Google Knowledge Graph

Author and tech journalist, Steven Levy, has released an in-depth study on the evolution of Google over the years, and the continued advancements that have allowed the search engine to compete in the changing landscape of search–in particular, the advent of mobile search’s growing influence over desktop search. A key finding of this report involves Google’s Knowledge Graph; the product that aggregates information from various publishers to produce a direct answer to search queries that appears before  the SERPs. The Knowledge Graph does not appear for every query, but according to Levy’s report, Google has alluded that as much as 25% of all searches may yield a Knowledge Graph result.

While we aren’t able to anticipate which queries Knowledge Graph shows up for, this 25% approximation is substantial enough to demonstrate a change in the way Google is thinking about how people search.

Entities, Not Keywords; Things, Not Strings

The Knowledge Graph is appearing for enough people to show that Google is taking user intent seriously: it is evolving to become more intuitive–to draw connections between the way humans think and the way humans search, and to provide results that reflect that. In essence, Knowledge Graph is representative of the overall shift to semantic search that became most apparent after the Hummingbird update in 2013. With semantic, or conversational search, Google aims to provide results directly relevant to the concepts or ideas people naturally search as opposed to a string of keywords. These overarching concepts, or “entities”, are shaping the future of search, and are the foundation of the Knowledge Graph.

According to Google’s original blog announcing Knowledge Graph:

…we’ve been working on an intelligent model—in geek-speak, a “graph”—that understands real-world entities and their relationships to one another: things, not strings. The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query. This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.

Keywords in the traditional sense therefore take secondary importance to the relationships between the terms in the search query–the way a user’s entire search conveys the thing they are looking for. In this way, Knowledge Graph is able to pull information from various sources on the web to create the panel of information users now see in some of their searches. Product manager Emily Moxley compares Knowledge Graph to a highway system, telling Steven Levy:

…you sort of get off that exit and say, ‘Okay, what are some possible Knowledge Graph things that might be interesting for this query?’ — and we search of all these documents and return relevant ones. Then you join back up with 95 and we say, ‘Okay, we thought this stuff was interesting, so let’s surface that information more prominently.’”

Knowledge Graph’s primary sources are Wikipedia, Freebase, and the CIA World Factbook, but as it continues to evolve, it pulls from more and more sites across the internet. Knowledge Graph information also powers event listings in Google Maps and notifications in Google Now. Herein lies the importance for SEOs looking to “get into” the Knowledge Graph:

  • to have content that is optimized enough for semantic search that it’s deemed relevant for thematically similar queries and is pulled into the Knowledge Graph as a listed source, and
  • to be able to submit content to Knowledge Graph sources such as Wikipedia, and thus have some level of control over third party information about your brand that might be pulled into a Knowledge Graph result.

Optimizing for Knowledge Graph

A search engine that focuses on the entities present on a webpage means that the quality of the information on your site matters most. A keyword strategy centered on keyword density and a fixed set of targeted keywords per page will no longer cut it. Your website’s content must be consistent, authoritative, and thematically relevant. Content must contain entities that are relevant to both your vertical and the kind of searches you’re hoping to get traffic for.

Knowledge Graph interprets entities in two different ways: implicitly and explicitly. Implicit entities are the elements in the actual text of your website. They are the topics of content on your site–the natural language you use to present information to the user. To an extent, they are also the keywords you’re going after; but you should treat those keywords as overarching guides for the creation of content. In order optimize for Knowledge Graph, identify the topics and information that matters to your audience and create content around that. Make sure the topic of each page is clear and that the content relates to that focus.

Explicit entities are the structured data markup on each web page; the information Google crawls to determine what a page is about. This will allow the search engine to identify the entities on your page and determine the relationships between them. This is crucial to getting into Knowledge Graph, and the best way is to mark up your site using a structured data markup from Schema.org. Mark up each page, ensuring that the elements are properly identified, so that the information on your page is readily crawlable. It is essential that both your implicit and explicit entities are telling Google the same thing: your data markup must say that your page is about what your content discusses, and vice versa.

Knowledge Graph won’t appear for a hundred percent of all searches–at least not for a while. There is a chance that none of your content is currently being pulled into a Knowledge Graph result, and that all of your organic search traffic is driven by SERPs. But 25% is a significant number, and in all likelihood, that number will continue to grow. It is representative of an overall change in the way search engines think, and the way we must adapt to keep up with that. Consider optimizing for Knowledge Graph–that is, essentially, optimizing for semantic search–as optimizing for the future.

Looking Ahead: Pigeon and Local SEO in 2015

Looking Ahead: Pigeon and Local SEO in 2015

Perhaps the single most critical update for local search in 2014 was Google’s announcement of the Pigeon algorithm, which had major implications for small businesses and local SEOs. Pigeon significantly changed the way local businesses are ranked by integrating basic web search ranking signals into localized queries. The result: a far more dynamic ranking of local businesses that is highly relevant to the user’s individual search based on their query and geographic location–and a more complicated challenge for SEOs.

There are a slew of rising SEO trends in 2015 that experts are keeping an eye on, and local SEO is certainly one that should not be overlooked. Google is putting greater effort into local search, and we must do the same. This entails, according to Search Engine Journal columnist Greg Gifford, that we take a more inclusive approach and not become sidetracked by individual tactics that seem to impact one or two ranking signals. Instead, we should observe how involved local search rankings have become, and strategize various tactics that account for each of the major ranking signals.

2014 Trends in Local Search Rankings

Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors survey, conducted by David Mihm, visualized this increase in the complexity of local search results. Participants in the survey were asked to weigh the influence they have observed of certain ranking signal groups. On-page signals, which include keywords in titles and domain authority, among others, held a 21% influence over rankings. Link signals–including linking domain authority, quantity, etc.–came in second at 18.3 percent, and external location signals was third at 15.5%. While there were eight groups in total , and some held more influence than others, no single ranking signal outweighed any other significantly enough to warrant a narrowed focus in local SEO strategy.

The survey, which you can view in detail here, goes into further detail about the differences between localized organic results and pack/carousel results, and asks participants to rank the importance of specific individual ranking factors. In the final section, participants ranked 10 factors that have increased in importance since the Pigeon update. Domain authority is considered to be the most important factor affected by Pigeon, with proximity to searcher, the authority of inbound links to the domain, and the authority of inbound links to the landing page close behind.

Seeing the Big Picture with Local Search

In his post, “Local SEO in 2015 – Look at the Big Picture”, Gifford advises SEOs to shy away from using a “microscope” in their strategies, arguing instead that the focus should be on the “big picture”. This statement is only reinforced by the findings of Mihm’s survey.

Local SEO is not, nor has it ever been, based upon a single tactic. Recently, it seems like many business owners will read a post or watch a video, realize that they’re not utilizing the tactic mentioned, and immediately drop everything and concentrate on the shiny new object…A few years ago, you could rock some citations and do nothing else, and you’d still rank at the top of the map pack. Now, there might not even be a map pack for your vertical.

Google’s recent approach to local search has proven that single-tactic strategies do not work. Pigeon itself integrated a myriad of ranking factors into U.S. search rankings, and in the final week of 2014, Google rolled out Pigeon internationally, beginning with the UK, Canada, and Australia, and expanding to all English-speaking locales except India. The extensive roll-out of Pigeon is just one of several updates Gifford notes in his post that further demonstrate the continued evolution of local search we can expect to see in 2015.

Should we be concerned with the trajectory of local search in 2015? Probably not. By integrating more complex ranking signals into local search rankings, Google is forcing local SEO’s to avoid shortcuts and tunnel vision. Founder of Fuze SEO, and Yext Partner, Jon Clark, reminds us that, “Pigeon is a very SEO-friendly update. Because the update aims to align local search with traditional web search, many best practice SEO strategies still apply. On-page optimizations, link building, and a solid content strategy are strong ranking signals for all searches; these should be a key component of your local search strategy.” If anything, integrated local search rankings will help SEOs with their overall strategies.

Looking Ahead: 10 SEO Trends to Look Out for in 2015

Looking Ahead: 10 SEO Trends to Look Out for in 2015

Believe it or not, 2014 is almost over. This year we’ve seen the release of the first Penguin update in in over a year, the launch of an entirely new local search algorithm dubbed Pigeon, and the announcement of site encryption as a ranking signal. People have hotly debated the importance of the keyword, while content marketers have continued to espouse the increasing importance of a solid content strategy.

Most of us are already looking ahead to what 2015 might have in store SEO. While the landscape of our industry sometimes moves at an almost breakneck pace, based on how 2014 has gone, it is easy to predict which SEO trends will dominate the new year. Here are our picks for the 10 most important SEO trends to keep your eye on in 2015.

1. Mobile optimization is key to success

Back in July, Search Engine Watch reported that, for the first time in history, mobile usage exceeded PC usage. This is a continuously growing trend that has enormous implications for SEO, as users are doing more of their searching on smart phones or tablets, hopping, accessing content, and connecting on social media. B2B sites are also significantly impacted, as the rate of users searching on mobile devices for business purposes is also increasing.

Google is emphasizing the importance of a site’s usability across mobile devices. Search results now display a mobile friendly icon to indicate which sites can be seamlessly used on mobile devices, and mobile optimization has been a ranking signal for over a year. In 2015, optimizing for mobile search will need to become a pivotal part of your SEO strategy.

2. Search will continue being fragmented across different channels

Much as users are searching across devices, SEOs must recognize that they are also searching across different platforms and channels. While Google still maintains a hold over the search market share, other platforms and search engines are gaining traction. Just last month, Firefox removed Google as its default search engine and switched to Yahoo. Not too long ago, Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt identified Amazon as the search engine’s largest competitor. Per his reasoning, people are now going to e-commerce sites directly when searching for something to buy.

The same is true of mobile apps, which provide content and information to users directly without needing to search through a search engine. SEOs should keep in mind that the way users search is changing.

3. User intent and long-tail search traffic should focus your keyword strategy

For a long time, Google has demonstrated a commitment to search results that accurately reflect user intent–that is, not only what the user searches, but why they search for it. This is an important upper level of the funnel to target users, and in 2015, SEOs should be mindful of those longer-tail keywords that qualify a lead, customer, or conversion before they’ve reached the site.

Which keywords demonstrate that someone is searching for your product or service? What keywords will lead them to your site before they’ve begun searching your branded keywords? A combination of keyword research and an understanding of the habits of your target audience will help you identify where in their search process you should begin targeting them.

4. Build relationships in your community and space

Content is one of the focuses of SEOs in today’s industry, but far beyond the creation of great content is its promotion and distribution. In determining the relevance of a site’s content to a search query, Google searches for the community that has been built around that content. That “community” encompasses links, social mentions, shares, and a swath of other indicators that your content is relevant, valuable, and contributes to your space.

Building relationships is key here. SEOs should focus on reaching out to fellow bloggers, organizing social campaigns, engaging with thought leaders, and staying active on social media campaigns. Building relationships with other innovators in your space ensures maximum exposure for your content, and is an excellent way to earn quality links.

5. Earn, don’t build, links

A result of the relationships you form are earned links back to your site, which have always been more valuable than purchased links, or referrals attained through unfocused link building tactics. Links remain one of the most prominent ranking signals, and Google places heavy emphasis on quality, organic links.

6. The rise of brand mentions

With the search landscape evolving to serve user intent, there is renewed focus on the power of the brand. A company’s brand is crucial to establishing their online presence. It is their number one distinguishing factor–how their audience recognizes and interacts with them–and Google is factoring brand into its rankings. According to Forbes, Google now differentiates between “explicit links” and “implied links”–that is, traditional backlinks versus mentions of a brand without a link. It is predicted that over 2015, brand mentions will become as important as “dofollow” links.

7. Social integration

While Google Authorship may not have had the impact Goole hoped for, the integration of social media and SEO is still high on their radar. It is likely that 2015 will see an increased value in social signals for rankings–Facebook and Twitter activity that ties into the relationships formed around content and the relevance of a brand to its audience. The exact importance of social activity to the ranking algorithm remains a subject of speculation, but most experts agree that if Google is not already accounting for a site’s social media activity, they soon will be.

8. Content remains king

The creation of content has been at the center of a new wave of SEO for some time now, and this is a trend that will only continue into 2015. Users demand engaging, relevant content customized to their own unique experience, and the worlds of SEO and content marketing are continuing to overlap. In general, a large part of many SEO strategies are driven by the creation and promotion content that integrates a variety of formats and multimedia as opposed to text to create a dynamic user experience.

9. Integrating SEO with other disciplines

Forbes also predicts that the isolation of SEO teams from other teams in the marketing department will soon be coming to an end. In keeping with the increased importance of content marketing to SEO, cross-disciplinary teams of content marketers, social media professionals, SEOs, and other related verticals will become the norm. As web marketers, each background we come from plays an important part in the managing of a brand or a site’s web presence.

10. Beware Negative SEO

On a precautionary note, 2015 may be the year of negative SEO. As the industry overall works to adapt to changes in search and re-establish its commitment to white-hat tactics, those black-hat practitioners are still using tactics to damage the work we do. Negative SEO involves building thousands of spammy links to a competitor with the hopes of causing their rankings to drop, and is a serious threat to websites. Disavowing links, a complex and timely procedure, is the only known way to repair the damage caused by Negative SEO, and Forbes predicts that as the threat continues to rise, Google may need to consider ways to maintain the integrity of search rankings and recognize manipulative links.

All in all, 2014 has proven to be a typical year in the world of SEO: exciting and fast-paced, with several developments that could potentially change the course of the industry. As we look towards 2015, we anticipate another busy year of change. Are you ready for it?

European Parliament Votes to Break Up Google Businesses

European Parliament Votes to Break Up Google Businesses

In a brazen move, the European Parliament passed a vote on November 27th to break up Google’s search and advertising businesses. The vote comes after a more than four-year long antitrust investigation launched by the European Commission in response to allegations that Google has formed a monopoly in European search markets. The complaints, which were raised by a variety of European publishers and political parties, suggested Google’s dominance over the internet lead to a disproportionate emphasis on Google-owned properties that severely restricted competitors’ share of the market.

The vote, while significant in its implications, is wholly symbolic. The European Parliament has no legal right to force the dissolution of an American company’s properties, but according to the Financial Times, the decision represents a substantial amount of pressure on the European Commission, which does control legislation. The Parliament’s increasing influence over the Commission can potentially shape how legislators respond to the decision, and how they proceed in allaying accusations against Google.

The Case Against Google

In November 2010, the European Commission was tasked with determining whether or not legal action must be taken to “unbundle” Google’s search engine from its other commercial products, and prohibit Google from giving preferential placement to its own products or advertising partners in search results.

Despite mounting pressure from complainants, the European Commission remained determined to settle the matter without the need for legal proceedings. In 2012, Jaoquin Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission on Competition Policy, released a statement insisting that “these fast-moving markets would particularly benefit from a quick resolution of the competition issues identified. Restoring competition swiftly to the benefit of users at an early stage is always preferable to lengthy proceedings…” The statement identified four key areas of Google’s exertion of dominance:

  1. Vertical Search Services: Google prominently displays links to its own specialized services, such as Google Shopping, Maps, YouTube, and Google News.

  2. Copying Competitor Materials: Google copies original content from competitors and presents the material as its own answers to search queries. According to Almunia, “they are appropriating the benefits of the investments of competitors..this could reduce competitors’ incentives to invest in the creation of original content for the benefit of internet users. This practice may impact for instance travel sites or sites providing restaurant guides.”

  3. Google Advertising Partnerships: Google restricts the placement of advertisements to websites who have purchased ads with Google.

  4. Google AdWords: Google restricts the portability of AdWords campaigns, preventing advertisers from transferring their search advertising campaigns to other platforms.

Google expressed a willingness to cooperate with the European Commission to address these issues. This past February, according to the New York Times, Google agreed to a settlement to avoid fines and a “finding of wrongdoing”. The settlement, which would allow competitors to buy top-ranking spaces in search results, was met with brutal criticism from the parties who launched the complaints against Google. Back in September, Almunia told Bloomberg TV:

We received a lot of complaints. We have been trying to obtain from Google proposals to overcome the difficulties and the concerns. Now with the last version of proposals we came back to the complainants. The complainants sent us replies during the summer. Some of these replies are very very negative…complainants have introduced new arguments, new data, new considerations so we now need to analyse this and to see if we can find solutions…it’s a long investigation, it’s a complex issue.

The complaints against the settlement led to the European Commission’s reopening of the case, according to The Guardian, and ultimately, to Parliament’s vote to break Google up.

Free Search, Free Speech?

A case like this raises questions about the legality of a search engine’s authority over its own search results. Is Google breaking the law by favoring their services? Are they betraying a code of ethics? Similar cases against Google in the United States have yielded opposite results. In a case brought up by CoastNews, a regional weekly newspaper, a San Francisco Court ruled in favor of Google, contending that search is a matter of “free speech”, and that Google is entitled to display search results however it wants.

According to The Telegraph, “the ruling underlines the stark difference in how US and European authorities approach the issue of search engine regulation. In Europe, regulators are in the process of imposing a series of measures – such as forcing Google to display rivals’ ads in prominent places – to address the company’s allegedly anti-competitive practices.” The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech in the United States, however, has potentially strong implications on Google’s practices domestically.

Google Responds

Is Google a monopoly? Google Chairman Eric Schmidt contends they are not. He recently spoke to an audience of thought leaders in Berlin to deny these claims, citing Amazon as a viable competitor for Google:

People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon…They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches just as we are.

This sentiment was reiterated in an open letter to the Financial Times, where Schmidt insisted that Google is not the “gateway to the internet”, and that with the rise of mobile apps, eCommerce, social media, and online directories, people now go directly to other sources when searching for information.

Whether or not Google is a monopoly is up for debate, and the impact that the European Parliament’s symbolic vote will have on the European Commission’s legal actions against Google remain to be seen.

16 Things SEOs are Tired of Hearing

16 Things SEOs are Tired of Hearing

We get it: not everybody gets SEO. The industry has been thriving for a long time now, but it is still a considerably small branch of an overall digital marketing strategy, and those outside the industry are less likely to know the ins-and-outs. Clients, and even people on other marketing teams, may understandably need some clarification about a lot of things when we try explaining our day-to-day. Still, there are a lot of misconceptions that come up a lot, and of course, they can be exhausting. Which of these 17 things are you most tired of hearing?

“I need you to help me rank #1 in Google for X amount of keywords…”

Keyword Rankings


“…by next week.”

Ranking by Next Week


“I want to rank for ALL the keywords!!!!”

Rank for all the keywords


“Can’t I just pay for all my links?”Paying for Links


Link building is dead.”

Linkbuilding


“Google has just announced the rollout of a new update to their Penguin algorithm…”

Penguin update


“I don’t really have the time or the resources to devote to content.”

Content Creation


“Can we just stuff a bunch of keywords in here?”

Keyword stuffing


“We don’t really tweet…”

Tweeting


…or the other extreme…”let’s just move everything to our social channels”!

Social Channels


“Let’s do an Infographic!”

Infographic


“My content is AMAZING….so what if the bounce rate is high?”Bounce Rate


“All you need is great content, and it’ll promote itself.”

Content Promotion


“Do I really need a sitemap?”
Sitemap


“So…what exactly IS SEO?”

What is SEO


“What do you do all day?”

What do you do all day


Amazon vs. Google: The Growing Influence of e-Commerce

Amazon vs. Google: The Growing Influence of e-Commerce

In a recent speech delivered at the Berlin headquarters for Native Instruments, Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, stated that when it comes to competition, Amazon represents the biggest threat to the search engine. “Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon,” said Schmidt. His statement came in response to accusations* that Google has become a monopoly by dominating the search market.

According to NetMarketShare, Google leads the global search marketplace with approximately 58% of all worldwide searches. While this is hardly a monopoly, it’s substantially more than Bing or Yahoo’s 8.10% and 4.01%, respectively, and still far ahead of the first runner-up, Baidu, which accounts for 29.06% of global searches. Compared to other search engines, Google does enjoy a level of dominance. So, why is Google weary of Amazon’s growing influence? How do e-commerce sites constitute a viable threat to search engines?

Amazon: The “Next Google”?

In theory, an e-commerce site like Amazon, which is driven by product sales, should not be in direct competition with a search engine. Yet Eric Schmidt argues that Amazon accounts for a definite loss in Google searches. Says Schmidt:

“People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon…They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches just as we are.”

In this regard, Amazon becomes its own “e-commerce search engine.” Rather than searching for products on Google, people are increasingly going directly to Amazon to find what they’re looking for. Google becomes the unnecessary middle man, and thus they experience losses. The number of searches decreases as users look elsewhere for products, as does ad revenue. People searching on Amazon do not see the same paid advertisements they see in Google search results, so Google is losing money on clicks.

Google is still a major player in the search market, but these trends prove that Amazon has gained enough traction to become a significant threat in the e-commerce market. According to Schmidt, “Research by the Forrester group found that last year almost a third of people looking to buy something started on Amazon — that’s more than twice the number who went straight to Google.” Add to this the fact that listings on Google Shopping are paid listings, and the numbers speak for themselves: users are searching for products where they know they can find exactly what they’re looking for.

Google Fights Back

Amazon continues to grow. In 2012, The New York Times reported that product searches on Amazon grew by a whopping 73% in just one year. It is the world’s largest e-commerce site, and its efforts to diversify its product offerings — with ebooks, streaming services, and mobile devices — suggests this growth will continue in other verticals. Google has attempted to recapture its share of that audience and stay abreast of the competition. They’ve recently expanded Google Express (an expedited delivery service in the vein of Amazon Prime) to more cities in the hopes of keeping users on Google Shopping. They’ve also revamped their product listing ads to be more dynamic and engaging. Now, when users search for products, they are taken to an Amazon-like “digital showroom” where they can browse directly on Google.

Amazon is still a long ways away from outweighing Google as a whole, but their increasing momentum is enough for the search engine to be concerned. As Schmidt says,

“The next Google won’t do what Google does, just as Google didn’t do what AOL did. Inventions are always dynamic, and the resulting upheavals should make us confident that the future won’t be static. This is the process of innovation.”

The assumption that Google would be eclipsed by another search engine is something many SEOs have fallen into. Moz argues that SEOs are actually ignoring Amazon altogether, and missing out on important opportunities. Ranking well on search is one thing, but ranking well on e-commerce sites is another entirely. In short, if there’s something that makes Google take notice, it’s something we should pay attention to.

*The accusations made against Google are part of a larger anti-trust investigation launched by the European Commission in 2010 to determine whether or not Google holds a monopoly over Internet and Mobile Search. The investigation has taken four years, and the ruling is forthcoming.

5 Disciplines and Skills All SEOs Should Learn

5 Disciplines and Skills All SEOs Should Learn

As SEOs, we wear many different hats in managing clients’ various web properties. We are content strategists. We are link builders. We are outreach coordinators, as well as data analysts. Sometimes we are even developers. At last month’s C3 Conference, Brian McDowell, Director of Search Intelligence for Conductor, discussed an overall shift in the perception of SEO from siloed search engine optimization to web presence management.

Web presence management, a more holistic approach to web marketing, encompasses multiple disciplines working together to power a brand from a variety of channels—paid search, social media, SEO, and more. Web presence management is “not a one man task”, says McDowell, but the effort of a team comprised of talented people from different backgrounds, with a diverse range of skillsets.

While managing a brand is not a one man task, being familiar, at least at a cursory level, with other web marketing disciplines, can strengthen your own skills as an SEO. If you work for an agency or an in-house team, exposure to these other disciplines is often encouraged. If you are a consultant, then having an understanding of other disciplines is important to guiding your strategy and identifying additional areas of need for your client. Here are five other disciplines that can make you a better SEO.

1. Social Media

While social media has always been important to increasing brand awareness, there is an increasing trend in the relevance of social media to search. In their efforts to further emphasize user intent, Google is placing greater importance on social media, integrating activity on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other channels into its ranking signals.

It’s becoming more important to harness traffic driven to your site through social channels for ranking purposes. Learning social media enables you to take advantage of this trend, helping you identify opportunities across social channels and interacting with their networks in engaging ways that drive them back to your site. You can acquire new customers directly through your increased social presence, and the activity will be a boost to your rankings.

2. Paid Search

Paid search, or Search Engine Marketing (SEM), involves gaining traffic by purchasing ads on search engines. SEO targets keywords organically where SEM places bids on high-volume keywords for the paid advertisements to appear in those searches. While these may be different approaches, they can still inform one another. Experience with SEM can give you keener insight into keywords, as analyzing the performance of paid keywords can inform your organic keyword strategy.

3. HTML Coding

Many experts agree that learning HTML is one of the most essential technical skills for SEOs to have. Even more than HTML, however, is a working knowledge—if not fluency—in more advanced coding, such as CSS. Codes are the language in which the internet is written, and in order to properly optimize websites, SEOs should be familiar with the way their sites are coded and structured. Much can be done in SEO without a technical knowledge of coding, but certain key components—such as Meta tags and the XML site map—depend on you being comfortable with HTML. You will be able to directly optimize sites on a much more structured level, without relying on a webmaster to carry out SEO recommendations.

4. Programming

PHP, JavaScript, JQuery, and other programming languages dictate the behavior and functionality of websites. They are far more involved (though can be integrated with) HTML code, and for SEOs, being able to interpret and manipulate this coding expands your ability to test and experiment. Create a more engaging user experience by serving content based on IP address, browser, language, and other personalized factors.

Responsive design and a website’s adaptability to different devices are all made possible through these codes. While much of this falls out of your domain, an understanding of JavaScript or PHP can help you work more closely with a web developer, and keeps you involved in the development process.

5. Analytics

It’s not enough to simply strategy and implement site optimizations. A good SEO is responsible for monitoring the performance of their sites, tracking changes and analyzing trends from before and after. While you may be working with other people solely dedicated to data analysis, it will help you cultivate your own strategy if you take ownership of that data. An SEO should be able to utilize different tools, such as Google Analytics,  Webmaster Tools, Conductor, or BrightEdge, to thoroughly mine the data for pages and analyze how their optimizations are performing. Site traffic, conversion rate, rankings, and other key metrics are crucial to determining what is working and what you need to refine.

It’s not necessary to become an expert in all things web marketing. Your area of expertise is SEO, and that is what you bring to the table. But it never hurts to expand your knowledge—to diversify your skill set. Exposing yourself to these other fields can give you a better understanding of your own, and makes it easier to work with others on a team. After all, with the way our industry changes on an almost daily basis, adaptability is a prerequisite for the job!