The State of Search: MnSearch Snippet Event Recap

With Google basically thrashing about in the SERPs like a toddler in the bathwater lately (even prior to the release of Panda 4.1), last month’s MnSearch Search Snippet event tried to make sense of the chaos for the crowd of local search luminaries that had gathered for an evening for the evening with pizza and beer in hand.

Just in case you weren’t able to attend make sure to keep reading to catch up on what you missed.

The State of Search

The impact of these changes on local search, organic search, and paid search were all addressed at this event. The presenters were search legends Susan Staupe, Josh Braaten, and James Svoboda. All of whom, quite coincidentally, are members of the MnSearch board of directors. And here is what they had to say.

Pigeon – What Do I Do NOW?

Susan Staupe

Susan led off with an analysis of the local search bruiser Pigeon, what it is, and what search marketers can do about it. Salient points:

  • Pigeon is an update to the local algorithm that, in theory, brings more of the site quality factors from the organic algorithm into play. This means that we’re not looking at anything like manual penalties, but what MnSearch board member and half Canuck Joe Wilebski would refer to as a filter (see his presentation from earlier this year for more).
  • In many cases, the standard local “Seven-Pack” has been reduced to four, three or even just one local result. If you’re in a highly competitive niche, even if you’re near the top of the old Seven-Pack, you’ll likely start feeling the squeeze.
  • This decrease in results might be offset by a smaller radius for local searches. Further testing will be required, but it seems logical that to downsize the number of results, you’d also have to shrink the area around the searcher.
  • On the positive side, for some industries (not legal, but some industries) the changes have dislodged some duplicate local/organic barnacles from SERPs. Yeah, that’s about it for the positives from the digital marketer’s point of view.

So, what can you do to fight back against Google’s tyrannical flying rats? Susan suggested that you start with SEO basics like producing content that people want to share, be a good search engine citizen, and just generally strive to build out your organic authority. From there, you’ll want to do everything you possibly can to buff your local visibility. Some ways to accomplish this include:

  • Ensuring your NAPs (name, address, phone number for the uninitiated) are consistent.
  • Get a Google+ page for each of your business locations. Connect them all. Profit.
  • Build great content, perhaps with some local flavor, and share it out via your social media accounts.
  • Get positive reviews for your clients or your business online (by hook or by crook).

One tactical suggestion I found valuable was to evaluate the SERPs in your business niche, identifying which directories are kings of the hill, and optimizing your listings on those directories. The pro tip: according to Susan, ”optimized listing” means 100% complete, even if all you do is fill the “what’s your favorite color” field with a Wingding.

TL;DR: Pigeon incorporates more site quality signals into the local algorithm, making site quality more important. At the same time, Google has chopped the Seven Pack in half(ish). Fight back by doing good SEO, building consistent local citations, getting good online reviews, and just generally keep a weather eye on the Twitter feeds of local search illuminati.

Authorship is DEAD

Josh Braaten

As everyone reading this should know by now, Google has killed off authorship as a tag that’ll get you a rich snippet in the SERPs or contribute to the Sasquatchicorn metric of “AuthorRank.” Josh Braaten covered the old ground, then laid out where he thinks Google is heading.

Brass tacks, according to Google’s John Mueller: the information was quite simply not as valuable to users as Google had initially thought it would be. According to MnSearch’s James Svoboda, however, the rich snippets were simply too pretty and drew the eye of searchers away from Google’s revenue stream. I imagine the truth lies somewhere within spitting distance of the revenue stream.

The Problem with Authorship: Low Adoption

After recapping the nail in the coffin, Josh moved on to the major problem with Authorship, which is low adoption among influential writers. He cited findings by Stone Temple Consulting’s Eric Enge in a September 9 blog post:

  • Adoption by top writers was poor, and even those writers who tried to grab Authorship credit, there were a ton of errors in implementation.
  • In his study, Enge looked at more than 500 authors across 120 top media sites and found that 71% weren’t even trying to implement Authorship.

Obviously such low adoption in such a key segment had to factor in to Google’s decision to axe the snippets, and I’ll be honest: I myself probably contributed to the shenanigans by adding markup to pages that were clearly not written by the cited author.

I think we can see then that, while the revenue piece is certainly near and dear to Google’s cold, military-grade robot heart, the paucity of writers who picked this up made the markup ripe for exploitation by overzealous digital marketers.

The Future and Structured Markup: Where Is Google Headed?

While Authorship may be dead, structured data is still the way forward according to Josh, John Mueller, and countless other search luminaries. Authorship is just the beginning of a far more complex search landscape, so prepare yourself.

TL;DR: “Things not strings” is set to be the mantra going forward, as the complex interaction of structured markup, the knowledge graph, and the Hummingbird algorithm redefine our industry. All of these different signals will combine to provide points of context that will determine the results a searcher is offered for their query.

The State of Search – PPC Edition

James Svoboda

James opened with his thoughts on how Google was paring down the visual stimuli in organic and local results in order to draw eyes to the revenue behemoths that are their paid advertising products.

There were quite a few topics in the PPC ecosystem that president Svoboda spoke on, here’s a sample:

  • AdWords has dropped the two line description for mobile ads, replacing it with location, call-out or site link extensions.
  • Google Shopping campaigns were upgraded, and AdSense ads seem now to compete with product listing ads on sites like Amazon.
  • AdWords call-out extensions have been added to the mix, and James had a little data on the CTR and conversions for each

Of course, the elephant in the room is Google’s elimination of exact match ad targeting in AdWords.

TL:DR: The key thing to remember, says James, is that exact match allowed advertisers a great deal of control over who was presented with their ads; it cut out a lot of the crap. This change is part of Google’s continuing trend of reducing that control, so that paid search advertising becomes less about control and more about measurement, which, for lack of a suitable synonym, just sucks.

What’s the Upshot Here Guy?

All of this is really just more evidence that this is Google’s party and we’re just guests.

Is Google is doing all of this monkeying around in order to improve the experience of searchers, presenting information in the most relevant and usable way possible? Or, does this all reek of padding the bottom line in order to make more self-driving battleships?

Whichever bucket your answer puts you in, it should be more apparent now than ever before that you need to do two things:

1) understand the fundamentals of your digital marketing disciplines
2) keep your head on the proverbial swivel so you can update those fundamentals when the world turns.

With more complexity comes more opportunity for serious disruptions in search — paid, organic, and local.

Make sure to register for the next MnSearch event, a marquee event featuring Jeff Sauer, Founder of Knowledge Land and JeffAlytics happening on Wednesday, October 22nd. Register to attend here.

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