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Well co-ordinated press releases over the past couple of weeks provide a hint at what Google has up its sleeve.

We believe it will mark one of the most significant changes to search engine marketing since AdWords was launched.

In fact, this could be the beginning of the end of search results as we know them...

A huge shake up

Well co-ordinated press releases over the past couple of week provide a hint at what Google has up its sleeve. We believe it will mark one of the most significant changes to search engine marketing since AdWords was launched.

We’ve become complacent as to how good Google is at achieving its stated objective of organising the world’s information. We forget about an internet pre-Google where one had to rely on Lycos, Yahoo, AltaVista, AskJeeves etc. – when Google appeared it revolutionised everything, we embraced it because it seemed to get to some information of relevance quicker than the other engines.

In reality we didn’t really know what we were looking for, Google simply refined what was already out there and provided results which were slightly more aligned to what we thought we needed.

The key point here is that we didn’t really know how we wanted this information presented to us. Furthermore, since then normal people (i.e. not search marketers) haven’t really questioned the relevance of the results we receive – it’s just how it is.

The concept of showing us a page full of links seems completely natural now, perhaps interspersed with a few images or videos as Google has tinkered with the algorithm over the years.

But what if rather than Google spitting out a load of listings in a more sophisticated version of the Yellow Pages it just answered your question, then provided a list of possibly relevant sources and websites?

Ok, it does already happen, one only need search for flight numbers, for example, to see Google’s Instant answers in action, but the proposed changes go beyond this with Google trying to be more human.

If a friend of yours asked you when the battle of Hastings took place, they wouldn’t expect you to come back with a list of possible information sources, they just want the answer – Google wants to be your clever friend. 

What are these changes?

This could be the beginning of the end of search results as we know them. Google has been slowly integrating answers into search results for the past few years for currency conversions, flight numbers and simple questions, but this announcement is the start of something much bigger.

Rather than just answering relatively more straight forward queries like “When was Google founded”, “When did Queen Victoria die”, “100 GBP to USD”, “vs200” (a flight number) it will start expanding out the space these sort of responses take up within the search results and it will start showing the answers to more complex questions.

The reason this is potentially so big is that users will be shown what Google considers being the most relevant answer, rather than simply a list of website links.

There is a twofold benefit to Google in doing this:

  • It’s good for users: Google’s mission statement is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Google are using their technology to help users save time by providing them answers to queries rather than simply a list of websites.
  • Users will spend more time on Google: This provides more ad-revenue potential.

This has huge implications on website owners because it means websites will not be able to measure their “reach” within Google search results by just traffic from Google, because users will not necessarily be clicking through to their website if they can read these answers directly on Google.
 

What impact will it have on brands?

1. Click share

In the long term, as Google becomes smarter in answering more and more questions, this could have a significant impact on brands. Initially however, we anticipate this will have a limited impact on brands. The type of websites  we anticipate will lose traffic because Google shows their answers will be:

  • Answers.com
  • Wikipedia
  • Yahoo answers
  • Askipedia

Although the WallStreetJournal reported that a Google source reported up to 20% of searches could be affected, we think the initial number of search queries will be lower. We have analysed the search traffic coming through to a number of our clients’ sites and anticipate that around 13% of search queries could be impacted by this update.

It is unlikely that many of the big brands will be significantly affected in terms of click-share initially, as we anticipate Google’s answers will primarily be based around factual information and queries such as:

  • “What is a cash ISA”
  • “How does 4g work”
  • “Kate Middleton”
  • “Rubik’s cube”
  • “Ingredients of coca cola”
     

2. Layering of additional information

For brand searches, however, there is an immediate possibility that search results pages will be layered with additional information Google is able to extract from Metaweb, the open source database of global knowledge it acquired in 2010.

This could provide brands with yet another area they will need to focus on to ensure their brand information is kept up to date in the areas that Google is extracting the information from.
 

3. Contributing to the answers space

Inevitably, brands are going to want to be present within the answers space that Google roll out within the search results pages.

From an organic search perspective, brands will see the tangible benefit from marking up their website code using the appropriate schema mark-up language which helps Google understand what the content is about more accurately.

For example, product information like brand, prices and reviews can all be marked up specifically to help ensure search engines understand exactly what the content is. There will be more visible tangible benefit from marking up products, prices, locations and contact details more effectively.

Furthermore, brands should get more value from traditional FAQ pages or definition pages on their sites which could be chosen by Google to answer users’ questions within the results pages.

From a paid perspective, we anticipate Google may make it possible for brands to be present within some of the answers sections with new ad formats which could be bought on a CPM model as opposed to the traditional CPC model.
 

4. Change in focus of metrics to include share of voice

For some time now, MEC have been equating influence within the Google results pages as a ‘share of page’ numerical value.

We anticipate this metric of share of page within the Google results pages will become more important as Google provides more answers to questions and begins layering additional information within the search results. MEC are developing a tool (code named Project Magnum) which analyses the composition of the results and provides a score as to the share of page and influence.

This tool is being built with the intention of being able to help our clients understand the value derived from having information displayed within the answers section of the page.
 

5. Watch the dot.com space to see what will happen in the UK

Google.com is always the first place Google rolls out changes, so we are keeping a close eye on how Google.com changes the results pages in the coming weeks and months as they will appear there before they come to Google UK. 

What are the positives?

  • Users – If the results are good, it will be better for users because they will get the information they were looking for more quickly.
  • Google – Provides a better experience for users than other competing search engines. Moves Google away from just been the doorway to the internet and keeps users on Google, thereby increasing their ad-revenue potentials.
  • Website owners – Trusted sites which Google uses to serve ‘answers’ to questions will see its influence increase significantly in terms of the exposure of their content.
  • Advertisers – Google could provide new advertising formats within the answers section for advertisers to buy on either a CPC or CPM.

What are the negatives?

  • Users – If the results are wrong or deemed incorrect (it’s a moral maze, how should Google answer this question: “Was Hilter evil?”) this could irritate users, particularly when the answers are personalised based on previous search history.
  • Google – Could open itself up for significant criticism to some of the answers that the algorithms provide.
  • Website owners – Google will show larger snippets of content directly within the search results and as a result, will lose traffic going through to its websites and the ad-revenues that it can get from the traffic.
  • Advertisers – More reliance upon Google as traffic.

Why is Google doing this now?

Google has been leading up to this over the years, and we’ve known for some time it wants to get to the point of being able to answer questions effectively. It now has a better understanding of semantic search than ever and is ready to launch... 

In addition, Google needs to continue to grow its advertising revenue in order to deliver a growth in shareholder value. We know that whilst the volume of searches across most markets is increasing, the volume of ‘monetisable’ search is not growing at the same rate.

One way of driving revenue growth in line with market expectations could be to open up new or alternative CPM based revenue streams within the ‘answer’ space.

*This blog post was written by both David Towers (Head of SEO) and Greg Shickle (Head of Performance Media) at MEC UK.

David Towers

Published 27 March, 2012 by David Towers

David Towers is Director Search and Digital Projects, EMEA at MEC and a contributor to Econsultancy.

6 more posts from this author

Comments (31)

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Hanri jons

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over 4 years ago

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Jebo

It looks like a Google are attempting once again to push down organic search results to get searchers to clicks on Adwords /ppc.

Anyone who’s is online savvy will know how to get answers to their searches and needn't rely on Google search to do so - with the excuse of improving User experience.

I don't think it will impact search or SEO as everyone search methods are different. meaning not every individual searches with "what", "How", "where" in their search queries as some of us search single keywords or long tail searches that can be generic, and there's no way of filtering this type of search results.

over 4 years ago

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Matt Collins

Interesting article, guys. If your predictions are right this could indeed be a major shake-up.

Could you provide links to the press releases you mention?

over 4 years ago

Andy Williams

Andy Williams, Digital Marketing Manager at Koozai

Very interesting summary.

As with all Google updates, until it happens we don't really know what we are going to get and just how big of an impact it is really going to have on search.

over 4 years ago

Panos Ladas

Panos Ladas, Digital Marketing Manager at Piece of Cake

What this change does is focus people further more on the first few results thus making ever more important for SEO to rank and achieve even more.

I'm not sure though how this will change adwords, the main revenue stream for Google.

In your article you forgot to mention AdWords and you shouldn't forget that Google does whatever it does to maximize profits and AdWords is the only way for doing this.

over 4 years ago

Jeremy Spiller

Jeremy Spiller, MD at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Excellent article and very insightful. I particularly liked the line "normal people (i.e. not search marketers)".

When I looked around the office at our search teams while reading this I thought "Yep, definitely not normal" :)

in its desire for world domination I suspect what Google really wants is for people just to stay on Google and then only go to its own properties when they leave.

While Google started out as an enormous aggregator i.e. just a way to find and reach other's sites, for some time now it's quietly been building a portfolio of content sites, apps and more recently hardware.

It's also buying up real world assets as well and investing heavily into new technologies.

I'd love to learn what's discussed in the Google Global Planning meetings. "What should we buy next?" Reply "Argentina" :)

over 4 years ago

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Palm

"Google will show larger snippets" How Large?

over 4 years ago

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Greg Shickle @ MEC

Following up on some of the comments made above. Firstly, I think what's really interesting about this is how Google won't necessarily only be looking to serve instant answers to obviously informational searches , words normally preceded by 'which', 'what' etc - semantic search means it will be looking to understand what the searcher is looking for and therefore making a call on what kind of response we are expecting which may be an instant answer. It gets even more interesting (if you put your cynicism to one side for a moment) and accept Google really does want to constantly provide the most relevant user experience - how they will measure when an instant answer is the best result.

Then it gets more interesting again when you ask what Google is going to do when people search for 'best car insurance' etc. Would they start considering providing the 'best' answer for you based on your friends' likes and +1's etc?

As for the comments about Adwords and how it will effect it. I think it comes down to a further pursuit of strategies to best occupy the results space, or in Google talk 'The Google real estate'. It will make PPC even more crucial - especially where organic results are less visible.

over 4 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

Thanks for pointing out both the positives and negatives for website owners. I could only see how many potential clicks a site might lose, but I didn't think about how being listed as a "source" for Google would impact the overall value of your brand. It will be interesting to watch this develop.

over 4 years ago

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Eddie

Agreed, an interesting & thought provoking piece. Google's ambition is similar to that of Facebook - it's looking to monopolise user's online activity, so that they never leave the one particular website property.
Once again it points to the need for quality content on your website, especially factually accurate information. I wonder how Google is to validate the quality of the answers it 'promotes' if its not to become another another wikipedia?

over 4 years ago

David Towers

David Towers, ‎Digital Partner & Head of Search, EMEA at GroupM

@Hanrijons Nice work getting a link within there! ;)

@Jebo I think you may be underestimating the potential impact of users getting familiar with seeing Google provide answers... When people get used to seeing it, they'll come back for more. Why search on answers.com when you can get it on Google quicker?

@MattCollins The press releases I made reference to were all the stories that have been released on mainstream news sites like http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304459804577281842851136290.html and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/9149141/Why-Google-searchs-overhaul-will-matter-to-businesses.html etc.

@AndyWilliams I'd agree with your comment there, we're speculating at this stage, but it does have the potential to be a huge shake up!

@PanosLadas You're right, answers could in effect make SEO more important as brands compete to be visible within the answers space. Otherwise I'm not sure the organic search engineers I've met from Google would agree with your statement "Google does whatever it does to maximize profits"! You're not the first to say it though!

@JeremySpiller I'd also love to be a fly on the wall at the Google Global Planning meetings!

@Palm A good question. Certainly larger than they are now. We were speculating that this could take up to the equivalent of 2 or 3 organic listings. If these results did, it would be really significant.

@NickStamoulis Yes, I think being listed as the main source within Google for answers is going to be significant as essentially you'll dramatically increase the reach of your content.

over 4 years ago

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Rob

this is a great article and I think the average web master is not adjusting fast enough to shis changes. For product creators and business owners, this is good news. For affiliate marketers, they better start creating a branding plan.

over 4 years ago

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Heinrich

We've already seen this to some extent with Siri on Android devices (one answer to your question instead of a smattering of links) and there were a few that said it would kill organic search. That hasn't happened, and I don't see this being a death knell for SEO, either. It will be interesting to see how this affects affiliate marketing sites and how Google responds.

over 4 years ago

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Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital Marketing at Lost My Name

Interesting write up, thanks.

Google has put a lot of effort into the Panda update with the weeding out of low quality sites which would most likely be ranking for these kind of queries - based on its perceived success, Google now sees it's own index as more reliable to run something like this - I'm sure had they tried this a few years back the cited sites would have been of lower credibility.

The web's ever-changing, I can't see a major impact for brands, moreso for content sites of all qualities with adsense and affiliate driven revenue potentially dipping. SEO? The death of SEO happens every year; in reality SEO evolves and SEO'ers adapt.

over 4 years ago

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Franke UK

Hey David, Interesting article.
As SEO's we have embraced local search for some time, now its time for a similar tactic.
In the first instance businesses need to create valuable FAQ's.
You know the ones? Customer Service rather than Sales focussed. (But perhaps CS you could utilise the MarComms budget given the potential increased exposure)
Businesses with Customer Service Departments and Call Centres start building out those audio recorded queries and questions into html documents and why not add a little syntax spinning and create a Customer Support wiki.
Onto that add some schema meta to ensure that questions are geo/ip specific and Bingo! =))
Well at last until the EU cookie law.

over 4 years ago

Eric Layland

Eric Layland, President at Canna Ventures

@Frank UK - your comments (FAQs w/real value) reminded me of a off-hand comment I made to a prospect when explaining the value of search (SEO & PPC). I said, "wouldn't you want to be the answer to the question your target audience is asking, when they're asking it?"

While I'd love to claim I was prophetic, it was more like a "don't you get it????" quip. HA! We shall see where the almighty Google goes in time.

over 4 years ago

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Kunal Shah, Asst. Manager SEo at Resultrix

Great article. Looking forward for some more updates on this topic.

over 4 years ago

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Franke UK

Hey Eric Thanks for the off handed prophecy =)) Did your client take you up on your recommendations? If so they should be in a great place and set to profit from your wisdom.

over 4 years ago

David Towers

David Towers, ‎Digital Partner & Head of Search, EMEA at GroupM

@Eddie Google will understand the quality of an answer based upon the authority of a site regarding a specific topic based on the algorithms it has been fine tuning for the past 10 years (they have become pretty good at that!) and of course using the data from the "Feedback" button next to answer (which it currently uses on the answer data it provides also). Coupled with that the data they can pull from Metaweb and they have enough sources to make quite a lot happen in the answers space.

@Rob You're right, the question is where do affiliates and aggregators fit within Google in the next 5 to 10 years. I think Google would prefer give users exactly what they want rather than having to send them via an affiliate or aggregator site.

@Heinrich I too don't think that it will trigger the death of SEO. Far from it! When answers become a larger place within the SERPs, it will however mean that an effective SEO strategy will encompass ensuring the client's we are working with are visible in the answers space.

@DepeshMandalia You're welcome. Yes, as Google weeds out lower quality sites from the index, it is able to have more confidence in using the index to serve answers. Otherwise, this isn't the death of SEO and likely won't impact the majority of search queries for big brands (we calculated around 13% of search queries could be impacted by this update with the brands we're working with). The queries affected will be the informational type queries which largely sit at the top of the research funnel. From a branding perspective, I anticipate brands will want to be in that space to help drive consideration.

@FrankeUK Your analogy between local search and Google's answers is a good one. The real estate these answers could take up may be similar and for the majority of location terms, if you're not visible in the Google map space your visibility is very poor.

@EricLayland "Wouldn't you want to be the answer to the question your target audience is asking, when they're asking it?" That's exactly it! Brands will want to be in that space to be seen as an authority in the subject and to drive consideration.

@KunalShah You're welcome. We'll see the changes in the dot.com space before it happens in the UK so we're keeping an eye out on Google.com!

over 4 years ago

Gray Sycamore

Gray Sycamore, Chief Strategy Officer at Mobileize

This has been in the pipeline for a while - last June Google, Yahoo and Bing announced the development of schema.org, a set of standardised tags for creating semantic mark up and RichSnippits showing things like review scores or author attribution back to things like Google+ pages are both examples of semantic mark up in use right now.
If you include these tags into your pages now you can start to see how your search results will start to change. We use semantic mark up for location based search around mobile devices for things like describing a pub or restaurant business or detailing precisely what a geo location coordinate is in HTML.

over 4 years ago

Richard Fullerton

Richard Fullerton, New River Marketing

Great article. Google is taking a step further down the path to ambient findability. The semantic web remains a dream for some, for others a tantalising and realistic prospect. Please see my piece on it in my paper 'The Future of Search' - it's on p12 onwards. See http://www.newrivermarketing.co.uk/downloads/the_future_of_search/

over 4 years ago

Mobilapegustultau.ro - Mobila la comanda

Mobilapegustultau.ro - Mobila la comanda, Personal at Personal

I think this is a positive thing. Yes, we all have to do the keyword thing. That is the game but as a company that provides helpful and engaging content for people to read, not search engines, this won’t change our approach much.

over 4 years ago

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Shashank Gupta

David, great article enjoyed reading through, lots of fodder for thought. Waiting to see, how Google shapes this up. Its a major change and has tremendous potential to shake up the SEO world. Its a big and a very positive; but controversial step forward as you have shown with the 'Hitler example'.

over 4 years ago

Richard Fullerton

Richard Fullerton, New River Marketing

Further to my earlier comment, see this article on how Google recently bought an IBM patent for a 'semantic social network'. http://mashable.com/2012/01/03/google-ibm-patents-semantic-network/?cnn=yes Is this linked to WebFountain? Anyone know?

over 4 years ago

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David Evans

This is Google's continued effort to stay relevant. With the rise of Twitter and Facebook they need to become more in tune with social search which means offering users information from their own social circles. This makes search results, in theory, more relevant for users but only time will tell if poeple actually have relevant information they're searching for in their social circles or if they'll continue to trust Goole to offer them the best, random, results.

over 4 years ago

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Joshua

It is disturbing to think that Google is on the move to assimilate a large variety of thought-provoking content into one 'uniform' answer of the next few years.

What happens when the question is more subjective?

over 4 years ago

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Bharati Ahuja

The layering of the web makes the web shift from the web of documents to the web of data. Hence in such a web the majority of the content is in RDFs or in the database.

Data is the foundation on which such a web and search world can exist. Data in itself is meaningless but when data gets linked because of its relationships with various data sets available on the web, it becomes useful and meaningful and solves the purpose for which it was being searched as data becomes contextual due to the inter-connected relationships . The more it is connected the more powerful it becomes and gives more related information. Google Plus has that secret unlocked potential of correlating, connecting and linking all the data related to a profile and then integrating it with search with its data about people, places and pages.

Hence the focus shifts from word to word mapping to relevance and correlation that is from keywords in the content to keyness of the content..

Written in detail about the semantic web on:

http://blog.webpro.in/2012/04/forget-keywords-and-focus-on-keyness.html

and

http://blog.webpro.in/2012/03/how-semantic-web-html5-microformats-and.html

over 4 years ago

Toby Kesterton

Toby Kesterton, Head of Digital at Lab Lateral

I completely agree with your summary here. A lot of people have spent a lot of time discussing symantic search - I heard MSN search engineers discussing this several years ago.

Can you provide more details as to why you believe Google is set to release this shortly - As opposed to something in development and possibly years away.

Timing is key!

over 4 years ago

Panos Ladas

Panos Ladas, Digital Marketing Manager at Piece of Cake

@David Towers: Are the Organic Search Engineers the decision makers on what gets released and what the complete strategy will be? :)

over 4 years ago

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Conrad

Howdy, I've stumbled upon your article using bing. Wonderful reading, adding your site to NewzCrawler now.

over 4 years ago

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Ganeshan Nadarajan

Nice Post! Google's semantic search is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful to revolutionise Seo

over 4 years ago

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