What does Google mean to you? An opportunity for sales, a puzzle to be solved or a noose tightening around your neck? However we feel about Google individually, the fact that it is a tremendously popular website property holding an incredible amount of data on visitor traffic and behavior cannot be argued. A recent Nielsen/NetRatings report on search providers states that Google now processes 56.3% of US search results (PDF), representing over 4 billion search queries per month and year over year growth of almost 45%. In addition to the sheer volume of patterns and relationships uncovered between websites and web pages alone, consider how the depth and reach of Google services yield massive market research opportunities for understanding human behavior, preferences and insight into what we value (both online and offline).
Whether you are looking to create a strategy for success in search engine optimization or looking to gain better access, understanding and/or insight into the behavior of your potential customer, here are 5 resources that Google provides to help you along the way. (Note that this is a fairly extensive post, covering a range of Google services, and as a result, it may be more appropriate to use the navigational menu below to jump to sections of interest.)
- Universal Search
- Google Alerts
- Google Keyword Tools
- Website Analysis and Reporting
- Personalized Search
Google’s announcement last month of the new universal search means that companies have an even greater opportunity to leverage all of their online content for visibility in Google Search. Essentially, the integration of “Universal Search” means that all of these vertical search engine results (video, images, news, etc) now have an opportunity to be found in traditional user searches using Google.com.
These types of results have always been there, but they’ve been “hidden” 1 or 2 clicks away from the home page (ok, it only takes 1 or 2 clicks to get there anyways, but Hitwise data and Google’s own analytics pretty much told the story that very few people were actually using them). It’s not that the content found in vertical searches was not valuable, it’s just that the delivery of this content needed to be re-evaluated.
So companies must ask themselves, “Are you leveraging all of your digital assets to be effectively indexed in across all of Google’s search properties?” Here are six opportunities that website owners need to review and evaluate, and examples of how this information can get seen in traditional search engine results (note that there are 14 different vertical search strategies, but these 6 are most important to our current clients).
- Google Base
Google Base or Google Product Search is Google’s free tool for listing all types of content (online and offline) into search. Item information is described using attributes, which are intended to be used when people are searching for specific items or information. The key value in Google Base is that product information, if formatted and uploaded correctly, will find it’s way into Google Product Search and potentially the main Google search results. Companies selling online absolutely should consider Google Base (formerly Froogle) when it comes to leveraging their products and product information in Google search results. [read our related article about Google Base and B2B]
- Google Image Search
Website owners should take note as to when images appear at the forefront of search results and make determinations as to how to integrate their own image results into strategic keyword results.
It seems that both Product Search results and Image results still exclusively appear at the top or bottom of the search results page, based on Google’s own relevancy algorithms for determining the best results. The latter confirmed in by Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products and User Experience in an interview with Danny Sullivan for Search Engine Land (source immediately below).
Resource for Universal Search
The complete write-up on Universal Search and it’s impact on search results, provides incredible detail and outline into this technological development, and I would recommend reviewing the information or bookmarking for a later date.
- Google News and Google Maps/Local
Two of the most visible blended search experiences occur when users are searching for news information or regional/local information (products, services and companies).
Website owners that submit articles, press releases and other forms of content (especially “Hot Trends”) need to be more cognoscente in the use of strategic keyword opportunities, particularly when it is in relation to recent, newsworthy events. I would also recommend paying attention to the type of sites that consistently get listed as news resources in Google’s blended search results (for strategic keywords), in order to pinpoint opportunities for article and news submissions to major news portals or aggregators.
Screenshot of a Blended Google News Result
The submission process for getting a company listed in Google Maps is relatively straight-forward and at no financial cost to the business owner (other than time). While anyone can submit their address information to Google, it’s particularly important the websites with regional or local relevance and particularly valuable for small businesses operating in specific communities.
Screenshot of a Blended Google Maps Result
- Google Blog Search
A few weeks back I wrote on the rapid indexing of page information in Google search results, which was also discussed in a post on Google’s ability to update it’s database from Bill Slawski of SEO By The Sea. While it’s not 100% clear as to how quickly or efficiently Google is updating it’s index based on ping backs from published blog posts (if that is the case) or through regular crawl rates, it is apparent that a well indexed, valuable blog can appear in Google’s traditional search results, relatively quickly (and in a more blended appearance).
- Google Video
One of the fastest growing segments of web content development is in the integration of video content, whether that be in the form of news, tutorials or general information. While Google Video initially only collected video information directly from Google Video or YouTube, there are now other video portals with indexed videos (such as Metacafe and MySpace videos), which means that there are even more opportunities for companies to find destinations for video submissions and content generation.
Here are two resources for more information on Video Search Engine Optimization:
Google Web Alerts
Web Alerts is – in my opinion – one of the most under-utilized services that Google provides by website owners. There is little mention of it or fanfare, probably because it’s such as simple (yet valuable) search feature.
Screenshot of the Google Alerts Page
Google Alerts allows people to receive notifications when Google finds something online (be it news, blog posts or web pages) related to specific keywords requested. While you do not need a Google account to use this service, registered users can also manage their alerts and add/modify/delete on a single web page.
Why should you use this? The main reason this is valuable is that you get up-to-date information on who/what/how people are referencing specific keywords of interest, whether that be brand-related terminology, valuable to your SEO strategy or for communicating and collaborating with other bloggers, journalists or content providers in your industry/areas of interests.
Related article on our blog – 6 Ways To Use Google Alerts for B2B Marketing
Google Keyword Tools
Where would we be without keywords for Search Engine Marketing? While most of us are not at the level of revenue generation for Google to give us one their most valuable sets of data – specific keyword search volume, combining three existing tools offered by Google (2 for free) can give you more than enough when it pertains to understanding search behavior.
- Google’s External Keyword Tool
Even if you are not a registered user of Google AdWords, users can access Google’s External Keyword Tool to better understand the volume and competitiveness of strategic keywords.
Screenshot of Google’s Keyword Tool
- Keyword Variations provides an opportunity to uncover information on search volume, cost in comparison to ad position requirements, trends and possible negative keywords.
- Site Related Keywords allows a user to enter in a web address of any web page, in order to better understand and uncover new and existing keyword opportunities. (Are you analyzing your competition? You probably should be.)
Of course most of this information is angled towards signing up for an AdWords account, but it gives a website owner a better understanding of search volumes, how competitive the marketplace is (if a lot of people are paying for AdWords, it’s a good assumption that the SEO market is thriving as well), and what additional keyword opportunities may also be available.
- Google AdWords
There are a variety of advertising and marketing-related reasons why a business should be using Google AdWords, but this post is about the analytical value – if you are bidding on Exact Match Phrases (with reasonable ad positions), you have a concrete understanding of the search volume related to your search terms. More importantly, you have precise information on how your ad copy, landing experience and website content resonate with the searcher, based on exact keyword referrals. That doesn’t mean to stray away from all of your other PPC strategies, it’s just one way that Google AdWords can have an impact on your organic search engine optimization strategy.
- Google Trends
Google Trends “aims to provide insights into broad search patterns”, particularly for larger volume search terminology. I find Trends particularly important when looking at user behavior related to seasonal search information, but also recommend checking Google Hot Trends regularly. In addition to the discovery of what search terminology was popular on any given day (Google ranks hot trends by changes in search behavior, not overall search popularity), each result provides insight into online news, blog posts, and web results in order to provide context related to why a trend becomes “hot”.
Note that if you want specific trending behavior on more detailed keywords (lower traffic volumes), there is an option in Google’s External Keyword Tool to uncover this – graphically illustrating 12 months of historic search volume fluctuation, if the information (per keyword) is available.
Screenshot of Google Trends
- Google Webmaster Tools
Google’s webmaster tools, including the XML sitemap program, are not for everyone, but they can help website owners better understand how Google crawls, inteprets and associates a website, based on keywords searched and found on the site. As an incentive for webmasters to register, Google also offers a greater amount of information for the site owner, including a more complex inbound link report, diagnostics and potential messaging if there are errors or issues detected. If you are interested in more information, we wrote a more detailed walk-through of Google Webmaster Central last July, in an effort to shed light on some of the interesting features and functionality.
- Google Analytics
Personalized Search and Web History
Are you ready to enter the rabbit hole leading to the future of search engine rankings? Personalized Search and Web History offers a new way for Google to provide users with the content, information and resources that they find of real, personal value. It also means that the “old” ways of optimizing a website may be on their way out, sooner than some would think. If Google can provide users with better search results, based on preferences, history and logged behavior, it would mean less reliance on current factors such as inbound links, domain trust and keyword-specific copy writing, as required for general search rankings. This means that your ability to create valuable, link-worthy content and communicate directly with your users (and potential users) online becomes that much more important.
Even more notable, most users forget that they are even logged in when they are using Google services – and since February of this year, registered users were defaulted into personalized search (and logged in) when they searched. And why does Google keep offering new and interesting things for people to do – like Gmail, Google Reader, Maps, Street Search etc? To get you to register.
Screenshot of Google Web History
Suffice to say, there is still a lot to be learned in relation to Personalized Search and Web History, but here are four key articles that provide detail, if you want learn more about this search technology development:
- Google Ramps Up Personalized Search – Search Engine Land
- Calculating Search Rankings with User Web Traffic Data – SEO By The Sea
- Google Search History Expands, Becomes Web History – Search Engine Land
- How to Disable Google Personalized Search – Google System Blog
I would recommend registering an account for yourself, taking the time to pay attention to how your own online user behavior can impact search engine rankings through personalization, in comparison to general, unfiltered search rankings.
For all of those extra hours of free time you have, it can very interesting and valuable to spend a little time surfing through Google Labs. This is where you can find all of the “beta” ideas that Google engineers are coming up with, and potentially find something that is beneficial for your own online marketing strategy as well (including some of the resources previously mentioned). I personally am a fan of Google Code Search and Music Trends, for research, entertainment and information.
Conclusions and Final Thoughts
Whether you love or hate Google, there is a tremendous opportunity for website owners to leverage Google’s various search services for your website strategy, whether that be for increased online visibility or the analysis and understanding of visitor behavior. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and any other strategies and opportunities for leveraging Google services and feel free to add a comment or contact me directly with thoughts, ideas and questions.