Lately Google has seemed a little scary and all-powerful to Internet marketers, especially those who consider themselves organic or inbound marketers. The search engine is often viewed as an emotionless machine that can make or break your rankings with one line of code. I’ve heard it compared to the mafia and, my favorite, the evil Empire from Star Wars. But there’s really no reason to be scared.
The reality is that Google has far less control than most may think. Its search business model forces the company to be a puppet to three groups. If Google ever loses sight of these three puppet masters, it’ll be the last line of code the company writes. I’m sure Bing wouldn’t mind.
Before you read any further, let me preface this post by saying that it’s about search engine optimization: not the dead kind, but the most powerful common sense SEO that’s ever existed. Something magical has happened over the last few years: the Empire finally got it right. Today, the same strategies that win at SEO also win at every other Internet marketing channel that matters.
To win at SEO today takes plenty effort, but the benefits are now heavily compounded if you understand:
- Your prospects
- Your brand advocates
- Expert influencers
If Google is the Empire, then these three groups that comprise your audience and Google’s customers are the Force. Google must bend to their will if it wants to serve the most relevant organic search results and remain in business. The good news is that if you can understand the needs of these three groups, you will have the control.
1. Prospects/User Statistics
The best way for Google to measure if users want your brand is by studying how they behave on your website after clicking on Google’s SERPs. These user statistics, such as bounce rate, let Google know if it has done its job of finding you what you were searching for. User statistics help Google measure the quality of its search results and adjust organic rankings accordingly.
The most easily measured user statistics Google looks at are click-through rates, bounce rates and time on page. For every keyword, Google knows the percentage of users who click on your listing. Google also sees how long it takes users to hit the back button because they didn’t find what they were ultimately looking for. If your user statistics are worse than the companies ranking beside you, your rankings will decline over time. Use Conversion Rate Optimization to kill two birds by maximizing user statistics and sales at the same time. CRO is the science of leading prospects all the way from discovering your brand to becoming a web lead or customer. Every new step customers take on their paths to purchases increases your site’s user statistics.
2. Brand Advocates/Social Media Signals
Brand advocates are customers who love your brand and want to let everyone know just how special it is. Could it get any better? Google measures how much brand advocates love your brand by what’s happening on the social graph (e.g. follows, likes, pins, shares, tweets, stumbles, diggs, etc).
Google and other search engines care about what brand advocates are saying about you because they know it’s one of the best ways to measure customer service and satisfaction. If you have good user statistics, but fewer people are saying positive things about you in social media than the other guy, Google has no choice but to assume the other guy should outrank you. Social media marketing drives brand awareness and loyalty, top of the funnel visitors, more expert links and better SEO results.
3. Expert Influencers/Blog Signals
Expert influencers are third-party, non-biased critics that Google and our society have always trusted to separate the wheat from the chaff. These experts exist in all industries and often run authoritative blogs with their own social followings. Experts have some of the highest AuthorRanks, and when they speak, both humans and bots listen. I just learned from Cisco that 27 percent of blog readers are bots. The rest are people, many who are looking for your product or service.
Expert sentiment is the whole reason Google’s PageRank algorithm was created in the first place. It used to be that the only people who could link to you had to have their own websites, and by default, have some level of expertise. In the wake of the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, authoritative sites will continue to heavily impact search engine rankings because they remain highly relevant.
The best way to get experts on your brand’s side is through digital PR and relationship building. Offering to write guest blogs on authoritative sites is a great way to build relationships with experts. You’ll be doing them a favor and earning their respect. Make sure to return the favor by allowing experts to provide guest posts for your site as well. You may even turn an expert influencer into a brand advocate. That’s the wham-bam, grand-slam, mother of all conversions. Guest posting on expert sites exposes your website to large new audiences and drives social signals while catapulting organic rankings.
So there you have it. Prospects, brand advocates and expert influencers make up the majority of your online audience. Google measures how much these three groups like your brand by analyzing user statistics, social media signals and blog/expert signals. Maximize these relevancy signals by producing topically relevant and noteworthy content, optimizing conversion rates, engaging in social media and networking with experts by guest blogging. These inbound marketing techniques have enough inherent business value that they’d be worth pursuing even if they didn’t drive SEO results. And for this reason, they will continue to influence search results for as long as we can forecast.
Always remember that your audience is also the search engines’ audience. Know them well, and use the Force to show the Empire just who’s boss. Power to the people!