Google Search in Disrepair? Comments From WebMetro’s McCarthy

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johnADOTAS – The easy answer is no — Google’s search is not in disrepair. But that doesn’t mean everything’s hunky dory, especially as SEO-gamed junk clutters the search space. Conductor’s Seth Dotterer15miles’ Mike FlanaganSearchmetrics’ Horst Joepen and BrightEdge’s Jim Yu have all contemplated the what lies ahead for search engines and SEO, and now John McCarthy, director of SEO at WebMetro and a frequent Adotas contributor, deposits his two cents about the state and future of search.

ADOTAS: Is Google’s search engine in disrepair? What, if anything, needs improvement?

MCCARTHY: No, Google’s search engine is not in disrepair. Search as an industry is maturing while the market competition is increasing. As a result the corresponding rate of growth for Google is naturally slowing. Aggregate paid clicks on Google web sites and Google Network members’ web sites increased approximately 15% from 2008 to 2009 and approximately 18% from 2007 to 2008. This represents a 16.6% decrease in growth comparing 2008 to 2009.

Google makes 96% of its revenue from online advertising from Google websites and Google Network Partners (AdSense). Comparing Q309 to Q310, paid clicks were up 16%. This was due to the constant improvements to its advertising programs.

Like any 800-pound gorilla, it will be difficult to retain the large market share that Google has obtained. Nonetheless, Google can continue to make it more challenging for newcomers by constantly improving the information gathering experience and quality of the information it provides the customer.

How could Google better approach the plethora of spam and lackluster content gumming up the web (i.e. cut through the crap)?

Search quality is paramount to Google and is the reason behind the quality score model of AdWords and the PageRank paradigm of its organic search. Since most companies are not willing to risk money on spamming Google or gumming up the web with poor content via AdWords, most spam or poor content originates from the organic index.

Google fights spam and lackluster content in two ways:

  • Continually refining its ranking algorithm; and
  • Educating the public on the value of quality information

If companies (“client/brand/advertiser sites”) actually increased the quality of the information on their sites instead of looking for short-cut techniques, their sites would be lifted over the spam sites. Instead, companies blame Google instead of properly employing a website that engages their target audiences.

How have SEO practioners had to adjust in facing this same foe (crap content and spam)?

Crap content and spam have certainly made the job of the SEO much more difficult. However, sophisticated SEOs have integrated advanced on-page and off-page optimization techniques such as latent semantic indexing (LSI) to their methodology. Applying such techniques improves the quality of the available content resulting in their sites ranking above the spam sites.

Sophisticated SEOs also update their methodology for the algorithmic updates such as the Mayday Update, the Caffeine Update, and social media signals. By integrating such factors into their optimization methodologies, SEOs can often stay several ranking positions ahead of spammers.

Do you feel that Google’s numerous initiatives have caused it to drop the ball on its core competency, search?

Google’s core competency is not search per se but information retrieval. Google has seen that growth is slowing in traditional search and by expanding into display, mobile and social media, the company is applying its core competency to these content delivery experiences.

Are social search engines including Facebook and Quora biting into Google’s search share? Will there be a noticeable effect in 2011?

Traditionally whoever controls traffic controls advertising dollars. This applied back in the day to outdoor advertising and it applies today to online advertising. Yes, social search is biting into Google’s search share.

However, Google is focusing its efforts on mobile search through products like Android and display advertising. Today 15% of Google searches come from mobile devices and the company has about 11% of the display advertising market.

Mobile is finally catching on with the demand for smart phones and tablet computers such as the iPad. Mobile search queries have increased 5x during the last two years. As such, mobile ad spending is predicted by some to reach $2.55 billion in 2014, threefold revenue growth. In short mobile search is growing much faster than web-based search and display advertising.

What are your thoughts on Blekko and its use of slash tags?

At present Blekko is an updated version of the Open Directory (DMOZ) and sites like it that rely on human editors. The truth is people have a bias and an opinion; ranking algorithms don’t.

The slash tags are interesting and reminiscent of slide bar technology that Yahoo experimented several years ago. Yahoo had a slide bar where a user could slide the bar left or right. This slide bar re-arranged the search results to show more information based content vs shopping content, for example.

How can search advertisers take advantage of social searching services?

Search engines are evolving beyond traditional search-results oriented pages. Today they are behaving more like a customized app that manipulates search results on the fly with the goal of delivering “personalized” results. Google started this years ago and adjusts the search results based on the prior search behavior of that computer user. Bing started incorporating a “social search” feature that looks at your Facebook friends’ recommendations and modify the search results.

Advertisers need to understand that social search has implications beyond their original target audience. Social search is also about influencing others. It involves mapping social connections to identify influencers.

Social search is analogous to TV or radio advertising in that advertisers must identify the top athlete, actor or actress to pitch their product. Essentially, who is your modern day Joe DiMaggio to pitch Mr. Coffee? If you are targeting customers or an audience on Facebook, who is the person that can influence his/her friends to “like” your product?

Are there other avenues search professional should be exploring?

If they are not doing it today, search professionals should explore mobile advertising, and try location-based advertising. Demand-side platforms (DSPs) could also provide a lift in reach and low cost conversion opportunities.

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