Why Google’s SEO advice is NOT (always) in your best interest

Last month, Google released a video detailing best practices for hiring an SEO company, and it is positioned to become the go-to guide for hiring an SEO. After all, who better to tell companies what they should look for in an SEO than the operators of the world’s most popular search engine?

The advice in the video is useful, but it’s biased and incomplete — like so much of the information the company distributes. For example, Ohye states that valid recommendations from an SEO must be corroborated by official Google statements, but the search giant frequently declines to comment on algorithm updates, and they have also been known to advise what they want SEOs to do — not necessarily what works.

Reputable SEO companies seriously consider all official statements that Google makes about its ranking factors. But if Google is an SEO company’s only source of data and best practice information, the results of the SEO’s work are likely to be suboptimal.

Whether you’re trying to hire an SEO company or improve your own SEO strategy in general, remember a few things about Google: their word is not always their bond, their data is deliberately incomplete, and they are a for-profit company.

1. Google’s word is not gospel

In 2011, Google released an authorship feature in search. By using Schema.org markup, web content could be attributed to a specific author. Authors with multiple high-quality, published pieces would become their own positive ranking factor for content attributed to them. It was an exciting change for both SEOs and writers, and Google expressed a long-term commitment to the feature on multiple occasions.


But in mid-2014, authorship was discontinued. Google cited low adoption rates and low value to searchers as its reasons for discontinuing the feature. It is a notable example of the problem with following Google’s advice to the letter, and it is only one of dozens of discontinued Google services.

Is it wrong for Google to discontinue a feature that offers low value? Absolutely not. But it does demonstrate that just because Google recommends something, it doesn’t mean it’s a valuable task to invest time and money into.

Another example is Google’s assertion late last year that a penalty was coming for sites with intrusive interstitials. They announced the change and forewarned SEOs and webmasters so that they’d have time to remove offending interstitials from their sites. In January, the change was rolled out, but sites who had ignored the warnings don’t seem to have been penalized.

Google’s inconsistencies mean two things:

  1. The recommendations in Google’s latest video aren’t set in stone either. When user behavior and/or their business priorities change, so will Google’s advice.
  2. If you actually are trying to hire an SEO company, don’t hire someone who is afraid to throw stones at Goliath. The most effective SEO companies consider a variety of data sources when prioritizing SEO work.

2. Google’s data is incomplete

Google is also known for distilling limited information when it comes to the data provided in its tools. Google Analytics and Search Console are valuable sources of data for engagement SEO tasks and keyword and user intent research, but the data provided by these tools is incomplete.

For example, in 2013, Google moved to SSL encrypted search for all users. This removed keyword data that was formerly accessible through Google Analytics, replacing it with instances of “not provided” data. SEOs were forced to turn to the only other viable source of discovering keywords a site is currently ranking for: Google Search Console.

But in a study published by Moz early this year, researchers found that the numbers in Search Console do not match tests performed in search or Google Analytics data. The researchers ultimately concluded that webmasters should be skeptical of the data in Google Search Console and must validate the data retrieved to avoid reaching unreliable conclusions.

Data provided by Google is rounded, estimated, sampled and incomplete. If you’re hiring an SEO company, be sure to ask what tools they use. Analytics and Search Console should be on the list, but they should be paired with third-party tools as well.

And it’s not just numerical or keyword data. Google has a long history of getting SEOs to work for them by only distributing information that promotes its own agenda. Remember to take Google’s official advice — whether it’s about hiring an SEO or specific SEO strategies — with a grain of salt.

3. Google is a for-profit company, not a public service

When an algorithm update is released or a change is made, the reasoning Google provides almost always points back to providing an excellent user experience. This makes it easy to imagine that their decisions are grounded in public service: provide excellent search results so people can find what they need quickly and easily.

But Google is not a public service, it’s a for-profit company. A 2015 report, “Beyond the FTC Memorandum: Comparing Google’s Internal Discussions with Its Public Claims,” compared Google’s internal policies and practices to their public statements about those policies and practices and found several inconsistencies. The FTC found evidence to question whether Google’s search results:

  1. are designed to benefit users or Google.
  2. de-prioritize bad sites or Google competitors.
  3. use unbiased algorithms or human decisions.

Because Google’s empire is built on paid ads.

In the first quarter of 2015 Google took in $17.3 billion in revenue, up 12% year over year. Nearly all of it — $15.5 billion — came from advertising sales. About $12 million of that came on the company’s own sites with the rest being derived from its network.

The value of that digital real estate depends on users preferring their service and spending time on their SERPs, which is why paid ad space is growing. In 2016, Google added a fourth ad slot above organic search results and expanded the amount of text that can appear in ads. While these changes have driven increased ad growth, they’ve harmed organic search growth, which is arguably not in the user’s best interest. Further:

  • “Ad” labels continue to slowly disappear on SERPs, making paid ads look more like earned, organically ranked results.
  • Description text may be set to expand again, making the paid ads larger and more enticing than content ranking well because of quality, user preference and so on.

Between additional top-of-page and bottom-of-page ads, featured snippets, carousels, Google tools and “people also ask” boxes, organic search results on page one have been reduced from 10 links to an average of 8.5. For many queries, organic results do not appear until well below the fold.

four google ads

Four ads at the top of Google’s SERP for “cloud hosting” push even a piece of the featured snippet below the fold.

In some cases — particularly for content in featured snippets — these changes have helped sites grow incoming organic traffic. In other cases, these changes have served Google in overtaking its competitors:

  • Organic travel and shopping site results both appear below tools like Google Flights and Google Shopping.
  • Newly implemented carousels feature Google Analytics in the first spot for queries like “best marketing software.” When clicking on a carousel result, Google doesn’t take you to the home page of the company listed; it performs a secondary search.

These changes to SERPs result in users spending more time on Google and seeing more ads. A recent study by Moz and Jumpshot proved that on mobile search, which Google is favoring moving forward, more than half of all searches result in zero clicks.

mobile lower ctr

For an advertising-funded search engine, these changes are unsurprising, though seemingly counterproductive to the searcher-first policies the company enforces on other sites.

Thus, when Google releases new information, it’s important to consider it in a larger context. For example, if you removed all of the newsletter signup interstitials from your site at Google’s command, you likely experienced a reduction in incoming leads and new subscribers.

There’s also no reason to believe that Google’s recent advice about hiring an SEO agency is any more altruistic. If you’re going to start working with an SEO professional, be sure to ask how they approach challenges like shrinking organic results and the rise of mobile search.

SEO is more complex — and competitive — than ever before

Some have pointed to these changes as proof that SEO is dead, but that’s an over-dramatization of the facts. SEO is not dead, but it is more competitive than ever before. Google is a serious competitor to contend with in search results, but it’s not the only one:

The amount of content online is massive, and there are a lot of companies vying for users’ attention. The growth in competition for search results isn’t surprising given than Google reports handling more than 2 trillion searches per year. Search represents a significant market for inbound traffic, and the bottom line is that Google is still the most popular search engine. It’s an extremely powerful, viable and required channel for marketers.

The best thing to look for when hiring an SEO is someone who understands modern SEO strategies, and who teaches you how to utilize the power of search engines to grow your own audience. This is advice Google will never provide, but it is nonetheless crucial to successful digital marketing in a fiercely competitive field.

It definitely won’t do digital publishers any good to try to fight the search giant, but — whether you’re hiring an SEO or improving your strategy in general — remember to keep Google’s advice in context.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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Author: Nate Dame

For more SEO, PPC & online marketing news visit https://news.scott.services

Mobile now accounts for nearly 70% of digital media time [comScore]

Time spent with digital media continues to grow — but that growth is all mobile. Last week, comScore released its “2017 US Cross-Platform Future in Focus” report, which tracks consumer usage patterns across digital media channels and platforms.

The measurement firm found that mobile “now accounts for 69 percent of digital media time spent.” By comparison, the desktop has fallen to less than one-third of total digital media time. Mobile apps are 60 percent of the total, with smartphone apps specifically commanding 51 percent of all digital media time.

Remarkably, seven out of 10 minutes spent with YouTube video are now on mobile devices.

Here’s another sobering statistic for those that have yet to go all in on mobile: for the top 1,000 online properties, mobile visitors are roughly 2x desktop audiences in the aggregate. In addition, there are growing audiences that rely exclusively on mobile for internet access. The largest single group in that category is women 18–24.

Google, Facebook and Yahoo remain the top US internet companies, each with more than 200 million monthly uniques (the only such properties at that level). This is why, despite everything, Yahoo remains a valuable acquisition for Verizon.

Facebook and Google dominate mobile app usage, with the two companies capturing the top eight slots and half of the top 20. Google-owned Waze is the leader among a group of fast-growing apps that also includes Uber, Lyft, Tinder and Venmo.

Social media and entertainment are the top digital media categories in terms of overall time spent. Social media captures 20 percent of all digital media time. And 79 percent of social media usage is on mobile devices, with 60 percent of that on smartphone apps.

Facebook remains the dominant social site/app, with the greatest reach by far, but Snapchat is number two in terms of engagement and growth across audience segments.

As has been repeatedly pointed out in the past by Mary Meeker and others, ad spending on mobile lags consumer time spent. According to comScore, in the retail category, 80 percent of ad dollars are spent on the PC, though only 33 percent of consumer shopping time is spent there.

In addition, comScore says that mobile advertising is more effective than desktop advertising — up and down the funnel. This is particularly true as consumers get closer to making purchase decisions. According to the report:

Mobile ads caused point lifts up to 3x greater than ads on desktop across four key brand metrics and performed especially strong in middle and bottom-funnel metrics, such as favorability, intent to buy and likelihood to recommend. Less ad clutter and proximity to point of purchase may be driving better effectiveness for mobile ads.

The full report, which contains a great deal more data, can be downloaded here (registration required).

2016 State of Search report: Paid search dominates, but social ads are catching up

According to the latest State of Search report from SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization), search ads dominate when it comes to digital marketing efforts performed by both agency and client-side marketers, but social advertising is the fastest-growing segment.

Released on Tuesday, SEMPO’s survey includes responses from nearly 500 search marketing professionals, including agency professionals, consultants and client-side marketers. The survey includes a broad range of questions around the types of digital marketing efforts being formed, industry challenges and metrics.

When asked about the type of digital marketing activities carried out, 95 percent of agency professionals and consultants listed search ads, as did 92 percent of client-side marketers. For agencies, this was a slight increase from last year, while marketers saw a 2 percent decrease.

Seventy-six percent of agencies and consultants and 69 percent of client side marketers listed social ads  — both sides doing more social advertising activities in 2016 compared to 2015. Social ads were the fastest-growing segment for digital marketing activities carried out by agencies and client-side marketers.

Search ad spending

When asked if they were investing more ad dollars on Google, Bing and Yahoo in 2016 compared to 2015, the number of agencies and consultants investing on Google was up in 2016.

Agencies and consultants and client-side marketers alike reported investing more on Bing in 2016 over 2015, but it was still far fewer than those who gave additional ad dollars to Google.

Paid social spending

Among its other findings, SEMPO’s report reveals that B2B marketers prefer LinkedIn and Twitter for paid social, while B2C marketers are more likely to turn to Instagram — with 53 percent of B2B marketers investing in LinkedIn ads compared to 13 percent of B2C marketers, and 54 percent of B2B marketers purchasing Promoted Tweets versus of 23 percent of B2C marketers.

Fifty-three percent of B2C marketers are buying ads on Instragram, compared to of 25 percent of B2B marketers.

The findings show agencies and consultants said “getting a budget” was their biggest social challenge, while client-side marketers said measuring their ROI was their biggest social challenge.

SEMPO says it will be presenting the full report at its 2017 Search Industry Forum May 4–5 at the Hyatt Regency in Miami and that SEMPO members will have free access to the full report. More information about the report can be found at 2016 State of Search.

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Author: Amy Gesenhues

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