Nov. 22, 2010 | by Doug Platts
Over the past few weeks/months Google has been making a number of changes to how search listings are explored and displayed. I find this very interesting as, whilst I understand that Google makes on average one tweak to its algorithm per day, there seems to be a much stronger focus on the user journey and experience whilst searching.
These developments to the user experience of searching has got me drawing similarities between Google’s listings and the trials of speed dating! Both involve a number of nervous candidates who are all vying for the attention of the audience of the room, each hoping someone will engage with them in the brief amount of time that they have and ultimately agree to something more intimate.
With that in mind I thought I’d pull together Doug’s top tips to attracting the attention of the opposite sex, in this case your target audience.
I’ve used the new Windows Phone 7 as an example for this, and these tips can be applied for any query – although I feel are especially important around new product launches or music/film releases.
Tip #1 Check Your Appearance
Earlier this month Google rolled out Google Instant Preivew, announcing this as
“a new search feature that helps people find information faster by showing a visual preview of each result”
These web site previews are activated when you click on the magnifying glass icons at the end of each listing.
Before this went live we managed to get a bit of a preview of this and pulled together some tips for web site owners to consider:
- Well targeted creative – this really pulls together search and the design of your web site. If you have clear banners or creative messaging that users can read in the preview then their eyes will be drawn to your listing. Also if you have content related to the search terms your page will rank for, then this will be emphasised within the preview
- A preview says a thousand words – Make sure all relevant content can be viewed within the preview, elements of Flash still can’t be read. Also if you have any ‘click to expand’ content areas or tabbed content, make sure that the visible content on your page clearly contains your marketing message. In addition if you have any rotating marketing banners ensure that the default banner that is displayed to search engines has your strongest marketing message
- Call to actions – DO IT! – Echo your Meta Description call to action by incorporating this into your page creative. Test how big this need to be so as not to over-whelm the page but big enough to be visible within the preview image
- What’s it all about? – Tied into that call to action, make sure you have a clear message to enforce what that page is about. Leverage what is discussed in your Meta Description. Emphasis your message with a clear picture – I wonder how long it will be before Google releases Google Instant Preview HD!
- Be unique – With page titles being one of the most important on page factors, and web sites using these to ensure the relevant search terms are all there in the right priority order – they are all starting to look a bit the same. Use your preview image to make sure your brand is recognisable and stands out from the other listings. Use your brand marketing and web site design to make sure that you are recognisable in the blink of an eye
Google Instant Preview Example – Windows Phone 7
Microsoft has nearly got it right with a clear marketing message and an image of the new phone. But I would question how clearly their creative can be read on that colour background.
The example below is of a site that ranks 8th on this search result, CNET.com, but whose preview image doesn’t clearly communicate what the content of the page is about.
Tip #2 Your First (Chat-up) Line
Similarly to chat up lines, the Meta Description is one of the first things your audience will hear about you as a brand in the search listings.
Make sure it makes sense!!
Even today there are still sites that don’t have targeted, relevant Meta Descriptions – and Meta Descriptions have been around for eons.
A Meta Description is the snippet of text that appears beneath the web listing link. This has a limit of around 150 characters. But the important thing is that it has no influence on how you rank within Google. This is great as it really allows your marketing team to go to town with attracting your audience, and getting them to click through to find out more with that all important call to action.
If you don’t specify your Meta Description or it is not relevant to the search query then Google will populate this snippet with whatever it deems to be most relevant. This generally leads to broken sentences that don’t really give a concise message to your audience.
If you write your Meta Description about what that page is about, and therefore what terms the page will rank for, you should be able to ensure your pre-determined snippet appears as expected.
Google Meta Description Example – Windows Phone 7
Microsoft have the luxury of two listings for this search term, as would be expected as this is their product. But in both cases they haven’t made the Meta Description long enough, so Google is filling in the space, or descriptive enough for Google to feel this is relevant to the query. This is surprising as the relevant term ‘Windows phone 7′ does appear in both descriptions, however short, don’t appear. It is always worth checking what your descriptions look like for relevant queries.
Whilst CNET.com didn’t manage to wow with their preview image, they have succeded in providing a strong Meta Description, with a clear call to action and description of what the user can expect to find when they click through.
Tip #3 Stand Out From The Crowd
Browsing the search results I still see that many brands miss the opportunity of introducing an element of uniqueness about their listing.
One way in which a web listing can stand out is by using Microformats. Microformats is a way to add code to a page that allows search engines to pull useful information into the search results. This information can be around ratings, reviews, price, whether it is in stock and more.
This can be tied into Google’s Rich Snippets Testing Tools in Google Webmaster Tool to:
“give users convenient summary information about their search results at a glance“
Another way rich snippets can be integrated into your web listings is if you already give Google a Merchant Center feed. With a Merchant Center feed you are already this close to having your pricing, availability, and product reviews show up as rich snippets.
Rich snippets haven’t been fully rolled out across all sectors, sites and countries. But just last week Google’s announced that it’s supporting enhanced search results for US shopping sites, it will only be a matter of months before this will start to be rolled out fully in the other markets.
The rich snippet display can make a fairly compelling case for click-throughs with the inclusion of pricing and availability right below the page link
Rich Snippets Example – Windows Phone 7
In the ‘Windows Phone 7′ search result there is only one site that is using rich snippets. The Tech Radar site is the 4th web site listed and does appear to provide more relevant information about the product. This is a great way to divert brand traffic from what may have previously been a one horse race.
Now I realise that it would be very rare for a brand such as Microsoft to allow for reviews to be included on their site or even pricing for that matter as it is very much network dependent. But what about the other listings that appear on the first page for this query, they could have at least made an effort to impress.
Tip #4 Use Your Wingman
Synergy between your paid search and organic listing is something that is often talked about but rarely put into practise.
PPC & SEO synergy is around:
- Using these two channels to inform each others strategy
- Identifying market growth opportunities
- Sharing marketing creative to ensure consistent messaging
- Covering off a range of search terms in both paid and natural search
- But also looking at where one can plug the gaps the other cannot cover
In a nutshell it is about these two channels sharing information, tactics and data – the trick is not to be too protective about this information, even if you are working for opposite agencies!
If SEO is ‘Maverick’, that must make PPC ‘Goose’.
PPC & SEO Synergy Example – Windows Phone 7
Microsoft may have missed out on an opportunity here by not tying up there PPC and SEO creative. For a ‘windows phone 7′ query they are displaying a message around PC offers rather than focusing on the Windows 7 Phone query. This could be a cross sell tactics, or they could just be on broad match.
They already have two organic listing sending their audience to more information around the phones, but what about the audience that is ready to purchase? Potentially they are missing out on this, or maybe they they prefer for the other network providers to soak up this traffic.
Unfortunately Microsoft are the only brand with both paid and organic listings for this query. But by adding in a network provider, T-mobile, you get the following listing:
Where the T-Mobile paid and organic listings just don’t seem to be talking the same language, relevant to this search query. Three and Carphone Warehouse have much stronger selling points that are relevant to the query within their paid search listing.
Tip #5 Know Your Type
By this I mean, understand the language your audience search with, the refinements and related searches to ensure your brand is visible along the user journey.
At its most basic level Google Instant works:
- When the user begins typing their query into the Google search box, Google will display a short list of predicted queries that are related to the letters the user has started to type in
- As the user types these predictions may change depending on the characters being entered
- Now these two points are nothing new. What has changed is that as the user types the results page alters to provide relevant results to the query
- This results page can change multiple times depending on the type of search query you are entering
As a brand you need to explore what is being suggested by Google as your relevant queries are being entered. What terms, and what is displayed, before the query is completed; and what is suggested to further refine the query.
Google Instant Example – Windows Phone 7
The example above shows the Google Instant results as you navigate through the suggested queries up to and past the term ‘windows phone 7′.
The Microsoft website is visible as you search up until the full query ‘windows phone 7’is typed in, even if it is below the news and video listings. But as soon as you explore past this points, to the review, release date and apps related queries, the Microsoft site disappears from the first page.
An example of a web site making the most of Google Instant and related searches is Tech Radar.com. You can see that they are top 3 for the main related searches. They have built out a specific, optimised, landing pages for each related query to ensure that consistent visibility through the user journey.
Tip #6 Remember To Accessorise
As well as the traditional web listing Google has been incorporating other digital assets into their search results. These are things such as:
- Blog posts
- Twitter feeds
- Branch/store locations
There is usually at least one of these elements in most searches, and in some cases multiple. Brands need to make the most of their assets, whether it is PR, images or submitting your store/branches into Google Places. Look at what is being displayed for the types of queries you want to be visible for and integrate this into your strategy. With more than one way to get that all important 1st page visibility, why wouldn’t you make the most of it.
Google Universal Example – Windows Phone 7
As with most new product launches now-a-days, it is very rare that a web site listing ranks number one. In this case it is news listings and videos owning most of the top real estate.
Microsoft has done a good job in getting video content available. Especially with this type of product, customers want to see the product in action with all of its functionality.
CNET.com, which ranks 8th, actually has a number one position with its news listing.
There isn’t too much wrong with Microsoft owning its new product search result but if they really wanted to own this first page, then regular news around the release, sales figures, etc would ensure visibility within the news listings as well.
Let me know if you can think of any other similarities. Try out some of these tips to see how much attention you can attract in the few seconds you have in the dating pool we call search.
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