How Understanding Google’s Past Can Help You Leverage Its Future

How can knowing where we came from help us understand where we’re going? The trials and tribulations of a past help’s mold the character of a company just as easily as a person and one tech giant spun a lesson in how embracing its past can shape its future … by building a business model designed specifically to compete with itself.

Google’s free-to-use search algorithm revolutionized the internet nearly from the get-go. And it didn’t take long for early digital marketers to adjust their tactics. Armed with big budgets and grey-hat flexibility (much to the eventual chagrin of Matt Cutts, Webspam Team Lead at Google) SEO-conscious companies converted the non-paid portion of Google’s search engine results page into the wild, wild West of Internet marketing, influenced heavily by link farms and weighted anchor text. “Buying your way to the top” meant paying hefty monthly fees to place backlinks from websites with high PageRank (Google’s page ranking algorithm) to your site via a text link featuring the keyword or phrase of choice.

Cutts and team have worked tirelessly to weed out irrelevance but while the cat-and-mouse game of manipulation persisted between crafty Internet marketers and Google’s close-to-the-vest algorithms, the Mountain View giant not surprisingly recognized the gold mine potential in the top fold and sidebar real estate of a related search.

Since 2005, through its then upgraded AdWords product, Google has offered small and medium-sized businesses the opportunity to manage their own campaigns and compete in the same space for the same relevancy as e-retail giants, established category leaders and the progressive risk takers that traditionally owned the organic landscape.

By leveraging self-released periodic scare-updates like Panda and Penguin that wreaked havoc on black and grey hat SEO tactics, and small business’ need for affordability, measurability and transparency, Google built a business model on the conservative backs of desperate advertisers. Most were SMBs searching for ethical visibility on a budget, surpassing 1 million accounts by 2007[1]. With a self-manageable, affordable pay-to-play alternative to SEO voodoo in place, advertisers were quick to pull out their credit cards and Google was happy to oblige.

In conjunction with the methodical demise of black and grey hat SEO, the AdWords product has come full circle, still allowing the little guy to pay-to-play, but this time flanking Google’s brilliantly textured organic search result that poetically assembles itself with just the right amount of resource and influence.

Google has successfully made the cavernous Internet appear a bit smaller and much more manageable with their organic search engine, offering outputs that seem to know more about us than we know about ourselves. But what does this mean for the 99.7% outside the Fortune 1000 or not named Wikipedia? Whether because of the death of keyword stuffing as a practice, or a perfectly executed behavioral targeting algorithm influencing the relevance of natural results, Google’s AdWords product once again found itself as the only game in town for anyone with organic site rankings consistently outside the first page.

The one big difference between 2015 and pay-per-click advertising of a decade prior is a much more robust set of system tools and a dramatically improved user interface that advertisers with little or no technical background can leverage.

While much of the innovation was built out of necessity after inspiring the persistence of competitive platforms like Yahoo!, Bing Network and Facebook Ads, now the entry-level Internet marketing professional can manage highly customized AdWords campaigns with efficiency bound only by their own ambition. The evolution of enhanced listings and campaigns with systematic feature upgrades like ad extensions and advanced re/geo-targeting has brought traditional tactics such as conquesting, the art of playing in your competitor’s space, to the digital realm beside cross-device optimization, and remarketing. While the entire product breadth can seem overwhelming at times, Google AdWords has done its job in leveling the playing field, helping to create online income streams for businesses of any size and virtually any budget.

The challenge for advertisers has now become how to build the most effective and efficient campaigns which goes well beyond myopic consideration of Google’s Quality Score (a way of measuring ad relevancy). With advertisers becoming more and more AdWords savvy or hiring skilled search engine marketers to manage their PPC efforts, optimizing the key influencers of QS like ad copy and landing page is now the baseline component of every efficient campaign, not a leg up for the ambitious few. And while important for lowering CPC and improving CTR through better, cost-effective positioning, improving Quality Score doesn’t necessarily correlate to increased conversion rates. By customizing the user experience based on acquisition source, marketers can create relevance even beyond Google’s reach, compounding the effectiveness of a highly optimized SEM campaign.

Here are three ways to leverage the current iteration of Google’s ever-evolving, progressive PPC platform …

  1. Personalize, don’t trivialize. “Eliminating clicks to conversion” has historically been a go-to on-site optimization technique for inbound search traffic. But often-times a product or drill-down page doesn’t expose the user to the site’s broader appeal or functionality. By sending PPC referrals to a home or category page with dynamic elements strategically aligned with specific ad group messaging, marketers can maintain relevance without sacrificing brand, product or service exposure. An example of traditional thinking would be an electronics e-retailer dropping category specific AdWords traffic on a line-listing page of products because it’s halfway down the goal path. While limiting the clicks to sale, they are potentially losing critical purchase influencing messaging like “Free Shipping” that has real estate on their homepage. With a front and center dynamic product carousel that can change based on the inbound search term, they can expose their shoppers to key secondary messaging by directing traffic to the homepage or broader landing page but without sacrificing the relevancy of the search.
  2. Consider mobile. With as much as 30% of internet traffic originating on a mobile device, according to e-commerce technology provider ShopVisible, digital marketing professionals have been forced to look at site optimization a bit differently. Considering mobile traffic typically converts at about a third of desktop traffic, according to BrightEdge, it may be strategically irresponsible to optimize solely for conversion. Examining site content and user flow analytics for mobile user segments may offer some insight as to what content users are after, making it easier to create effective landing pages specific to mobile users. Although PPC campaigns are typically judged on revenue metrics like cost-per-order because of their high degree of measurability, that doesn’t outright dismiss the tactic for targeting mobile users. It may be best to also consider the value of alternate, non-revenue generating goals when optimizing for mobile traffic, such as customer service form submissions or product catalog downloads. Additionally, call & address extensions have supercharged the effectiveness of mobile ads themselves.
  3. Think local. Even national brands and e-retailers can take advantage of Google AdWord’s geotargeting capabilities by stretching relevance into the subconscious. Creating localized campaigns to specific regions or high-performing metropolitan areas coupled with dynamic landing page elements utilizing IP targeting may positively influence user behavior. From direct response, area-specific promotional messaging to regional testimonials, customized geotargeted campaigns and complementary site optimization could help lift conversion rates. When a national brand releases a product exclusive to a specific region they can create geotargeted AdWords campaigns with a complementary landing page hero specific to that area containing a precise call-to-action for just that targeted consumer. Not only does this create relevancy on the destination URL to help lift conversion rate but the less-competitive bidding drilled down by geolocale and location specific Keywords and Ad copy may lower CPCs.Omnichannel. Combined with RLSAs (remarketing lists for search ads), geotargeting allows extremely relevant localized mobile content to be delivered to highly qualified prior visitors already in the consideration funnel.

Thinking outside the box to improve search marketing efficiency is hardly a new practice but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Google it’s that their products and services can reward those along for the ride and who play by their rules. So don’t be afraid to try the revolving door of product upgrades that seem to come and go with the seasons. On a higher level, PPC advertising has been a pillar of successful emarketing efforts for the past decade and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Despite steadily rising CPCs from cluttered bidding and increased competition the love/hate relationship between SMBs and Google AdWords is likely to grow even stronger and more complex as new age technological advances like behavioral segmentation and advanced user profiling become more refined.  And while the average digital marketer may no longer be able to outsmart Google, they might (once again) be able to outsmart the ones trying to outsmart Google.

After all, that’s been in the doctrine of successful search engine marketing since Google rewrote it back in 2005.

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