Google+, Yang Out @ Yahoo, and PIPA/SOPA

It’s been a busy month in the world of online marketing and search. To remain topical, today’s column will cover four topics. First, Google’s changing its search engine results page (SERP) as a way to get higher adoption rates on Plus, in particular, providing incentives for thought leaders in every industry and businesses to remain active and engaged in Plus with the hope that they might get into the SERP. Secondly, Google missed Wall Street earnings estimates resulting in a significant 7 percent to 8 percent drop in share price as of the writing of this column. Over at Yahoo, Jerry Yang, co-founder, announced his resignation from the board of directors. Finally, in case you didn’t notice, last week was the week that large portions of the web went dark in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills being debated and voted on by the U.S. Congress.

At Google

First let’s talk about Google’s new “Search plus Your World” feature and more importantly, the “People and Pages” on Google+ related to “keyword search” where Google+ profiles are featured in high visibility locations in the SERP, even more prominent than right rail PPC ads (something we as paid search marketers should take note of). Let’s examine that phenomenon and its roots given Google’s rivalry with Facebook.

Everywhere you look, marketers and advertisers are promoting their Facebook pages, often bribing users by indicating that special deals and inside product information will be released specifically to those who “like” a brand. That’s gotta drive Larry and the Google team crazy because not only are billions of dollars in advertising and marketing budgets being deployed to promote Facebook at no cost to Facebook, but much of the activity going on within Facebook is unavailable to Google. For a company whose mission is “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” it must be maddening to have the world’s largest social graph and many millions of documents locked out of Google’s reach.

One solution of course is for Google to start a competing social networking platform using all the assets at its disposal. Facebook can’t offer SERP visibility to advertisers but Google can. Brands with competencies in certain areas and keywords have the potential to be “good enough” to make it into the SERP…free. Will marketers and advertisers accept the pitch from Google that they should have a Google+ page and also advertise that Plus page URL to the marketer’s customers? Evidence shows that marketers will in fact go for it. It was widely reported that Cadbury U.K. did a new product launch on Twitter and Google+ exclusively (no Facebook). Cadbury may have taken the opportunity to be the first major brand to launch on Google+ and support that Plus page in its marketing and PR efforts. However, Google may be counting on other marketers to follow Cadbury’s lead and move to Google from Facebook when advertising to their customers in exchange for promising a high likelihood of the Google+ page ranking well for not only the brand keyword, but generic as well.

Recently, at Jeffrey Hayzlett’s party for his new book “Running the Gauntlet” (recommended for entrepreneurs and managers), I was chatting with Gary Vaynerchuk about the fact that he shows up number one in the Google+ results for the highly relevant search for “wine.” In Gary’s case, he belongs there at the top because he is knowledgeable, passionate, and highly communicative with the public about wine. Clearly, Google is illustrating that those with the Google+ “circle rank” (or whatever it ends up being called) for specific search terms will get priority placement in the SERPs. There is higher value in being at the top in the SERP than almost anything else. Marketers want to increase the likelihood of ranking their Google+ page, so they’ll devote marketing efforts and dollars to growing their Google+ circles. SEOs are already recommending that efforts be spent on Google+ page optimization. Win-win, bribe, or quid pro quo between Google and marketers? You decide.

Google missed its Q4 2011 Wall Street revenue estimates. This is relevant to you as a PPC search marketer because you are the one helping Google make its billions. Most analysts continue to rate Google a buy despite the miss. In light of the earnings miss, it’s even more interesting that Google is sacrificing right rail PPC clicks to put Google+ results in there, perhaps signaling a willingness to take a slight advertising yield drop in exchange for a successful launch of Google+. However, that change simultaneously makes the positions above the organic more important. Will that drive up competition and bids for those positions? I think it might.

At Yahoo

Also in the news, Jerry Yang is now only a large Yahoo shareholder having vacated both the BOD and the CEO slot, twice. This presents both challenges and opportunities for the new Yahoo CEO, Scott Thompson. Scott will essentially be reporting to a new board if the board loses several additional members. In that case it will be more important than ever for Scott to articulate a clear vision for the company that the employees and the Street (Wall Street) can get behind. Employee morale may be up a bit due to the excitement about change but Scott needs to ensure he keeps it there or the brain drain that faced Yahoo over the last several years may reach epidemic levels.

PIPA-SOPA Protests

Grassroots efforts seem to be generating quite a significant response against the two bills being debated in Congress lately. Portions of the web went dark in protest of PIPA and SOPA. Trade associations got involved, including the search industry trade association SEMPO, which released copies of letters drafted to both houses of Congress. For example, read SEMPO’s POV on PIPA.

If you thought things were slowing down and stabilizing in the world of search and online marketing, think again.

Related reading

Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.