Visibility is a top goal for digital marketers, and it boils down to a very particular and very mysterious process we know as "Google Search Ranking."
Google controls your destiny, if you are a digital marketer.
Digital marketers are up to all kinds of stratagems these days: omni-channel marketing, inbound marketing, content marketing, email marketing, in-app marketing, social media marketing, convergence marketing, and then whatever constitutes flavor-of-the-month.
But really, it comes down to two things: getting people to find and interact with your content, and then obtaining from them a desired action - a conversion, as we like to call it.
A recent article at ClickZ strongly suggested that email works far better than social media in the achievement of the above. And if you are a big retail outfit, then in-store messaging is showing some real promise.
But for the rest of the yearning masses of marketers in the world, visibility is the essential ingredient. And visibility really does boil down to a very particular and very mysterious process we know as "Google Search Ranking."
Every site that does not attach itself to an enormous alternative branding effort relies very heavily on Google to send traffic. Google does not have to send traffic. In fact, it can seem at times whimsical in the way it assigns rank in a world full of what seems to be a billion websites.
Consequently, marketers often live and die by how Google mysteriously treats their site in search rankings.
Of course some things about Google rankings are either known or deduced from evidence, and this body of knowledge is often referred to as search engine optimization (SEO). But it really is GSEO (Google search engine optimization), for I have yet to hear anyone claim they are trying to improve their results in Bing or Duck Duck Go.
Recently I've come across two instances where site ranking was impacted not by lack of SEO but by development-side problems, and both involved duplicate content.
One of the tenets of GSEO is that Google wants you to have lots of relevant content about your subject matter, whether that is skydiving or contract law. Some folks think this simply means "lots of pages about that subject."
But Google is not fooled.
In the first instance, a small professional services firm wanted to heavy-up on content about contract law. So their developers created a single, very long page with lots and lots of content on it. This page was then linked to repeatedly from throughout the site, with the links putting a particular heading at the top of the browser (intra-page linking). To Google's Web crawler, this looked like several hundred duplicate pages - which, in a way, it was. The same page was called each time a link was clicked, going to a different location on the same page. Google didn't notice nor care that the answers were being given but not by delivering a new page for each question.
After they stopped using the one-long-page, search results improved. Google does not like duplicate content, even if it isn't really duplicate content.
In the second instance, a skydiving company had a calendar for events and for scheduling training and jumps. The calendar was constructed in such a way that, if the bot accessed it via any of several links, and the calendar did not have fresh content for that link, then the calendar was seen as duplicate content. It was perfectly relevant content, but it looked like duplicate content to the crawler.
This company is in the process of redeveloping their calendar so it no longer presents this way.
But should either of these companies have been punished by Google for doing what they did? If Google were not a private company that can do anything it wants, then the answer is "of course not." In either case, the end-user was actually getting what they wanted from the sites in question. It was the bot that got what it didn't expect, and didn't know how to deal with it, and therefore punished the site.
Google is not going to change to accommodate every problem with search. Nor is the sea going to dry up any time soon.
If you are a digital marketer, your first job, and often your most important job, is making sure Google likes your site. And since you cannot get any business from a void, and since you rely on traffic from Google, and need to be as close to the top as you can get in order to obtain that traffic, then Google does in fact control your destiny.
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Andrew V. Edwards is a digital marketing executive with 20 years of experience serving large organizations, and has been an operating executive and digital marketing consultant since the 1980s. Currently he is a partner at Efectyv Digital, a digital analytics consulting firm. Andrew combines extensive technical knowledge with a broad strategic understanding of digital marketing and especially digital measurement, plus hands-on creative in the form of writing and design.
In 2004 Edwards co-founded the Digital Analytics Association and is currently a director emeritus. He has designed analytics training curricula for business teams and has led seminars on digital marketing subjects.
Besides writing a regular column about analytics for ClickZ, Andrew wrote the groundbreaking "Dawn of Convergence Analytics" report, which was featured at the SES show in New York (2013).
His book Digital Is Destroying Everything, published by Rowman & Littlefield, will be released on June 15, 2015.
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