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Posted on Fri, Jul 29, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

How Google Plus changes the game for Ann Arbor's digital marketing firms

By Nathan Bomey


Pure Visibility, led by co-founders Linda Girard and Catherine Juon, is one of several digital marketing firms in Ann Arbor that must grapple with the implications of new social networking sites like Google Plus.

File photo |

Traditional search engine optimization may be on its deathbed and it doesn’t even know it.

SEO, as it’s called, is a concept that revolutionized sales strategies and created an entire new business model for marketing firms — including many in the Ann Arbor area.

Local companies like Pure Visibility, Ingenex Digital Marketing and PWB Marketing Communications have tailored their services toward helping clients upgrade their websites to be more Google-friendly.

But with the rise of Facebook, the influence of Twitter and the recent introduction of Google Plus, it’s becoming increasingly clear that social networking will become just as influential in driving search results as traditional SEO.

The rise of Google Plus underscores the emerging “intimate relationship between search and social” networking, said Chad Wiebesick, social media and interactive marketing director for Ann Arbor-based PWB Marketing Communications.

For the Ann Arbor area’s digital marketing firms and universities, Google Plus is another tool that needs to be explored and explained to students and clients who are already overwhelmed with the opportunities and demands of digital marketing.

They need to figure it out quickly — because marketing dollars are flooding to the web. In 2011, online advertising spending is expected to rise by more than 20 percent, topping $31 billion, according to a report by research firm It’s expected to approach $50 billion by 2015.

Much of that will be spent on search engine ads like Google AdWords — which are still critically important. But I’d argue that search engine optimization — at least as we know it today — will seem quaint in a few years. We’ll look back in amusement on these digitally primitive days in which you could manipulate search engines by strategically tinkering with copy text, titles, links and website structure.

Buzz is building about the introduction of Google Plus, a new social networking tool that’s being described as a legitimate competitor for Facebook. You can build a social profile, accumulate connections, publish status updates and links, comment on other posts and categorize colleagues based on how well you know them. Google Plus reportedly has already attracted more than 20 million users.

The introduction of Google Plus is a tacit acknowledgment that Google has fallen behind Facebook in recognition of how social networking is changing information gathering. Google doesn’t have access to the fast-flowing stream of content being created by hundreds of millions of social networkers who keep their Facebook content private.

“What Google is doing is trying to understand behaviors of how people search and what influences them socially,” said Linda Girard, co-founder of Pure Visibility. “Social influences will be what drives the most relevance going forward.”

Simply put, Google’s search engine is no longer all-inclusive — and it’s slow.

“It’s not meant to be particularly responsive to rapid changes and current events,” said Bud Gibson, an Eastern Michigan University professor who teaches classes about search engine marketing. “As people’s online lives and presence changes, it doesn’t keep up.”

That’s where Google Plus can help. With millions of users offering status updates and links to interesting websites and news stories on a given day, Google is now compiling an ocean of data that can be used to improve its search engine.

In an ideal search world, you would not be able to use SEO to manipulate Google’s search engine. Google would be able to assess your search request and deliver perfect results based on an algorithmic analysis of the entire web, including social networking sites. That’s what Google — and, perhaps Facebook — is driving toward.

“It’s more like intelligent computing,” said Derek Mehraban, CEO of Ingenex Digital Marketing. “One advantage that Google has with Google Plus — assuming that it catches on — is they will have access to that data. If I share more articles on Google Plus, they’re going to be able to see that, which could affect (website) ranking.”

That, of course, would make Google more relevant.

“Google recognizes that having access to this data and access to this experience is critical,” Gibson said.

That’s because Google’s digital reign is far from assured. If you want to know what the public thinks about a hot news story, you should search Twitter, not Google. If you want to know what restaurant to visit tonight in New York, ask your Facebook friends, not Google.

“Where are people going to get recommendations for products?” Wiebesick said. “In days past, it used to be search engines, but more and more now people are going to their friends and professional colleagues, as opposed to search.

“At the end of the day, the more Google can increase search relevancy by identifying me and knowing who my friends are and people I like to hang out and know what my friends like — if Google can highlight those results for me, that helps me.”

While search engine marketing evolves, Ann Arbor’s digital marketers are evolving, too. Corporate clients are demanding help with digital marketing and social media.

In 2011, some 80 percent of U.S. companies with at least 100 employees are using social media websites to market their services and products, according to eMarketer. That's up from 42 percent in 2008, 58 percent in 2009 and 73 percent in 2010. It's expected to rise to 88 percent in 2012.

As demand surges for digital marketing help, Ann Arbor’s digital leaders are flourishing. Pure Visibility recently hired several new employees, including a web metrics analyst, SEO analyst and project manager. The company now employs 20 at its headquarters in the First National Bank building on Main Street.

Local digital marketing leaders said it’s too early to tell exactly how Google Plus will be used and how companies can take advantage of it.

But they’re already advising companies to place Google’s “plus one” button on their websites — a tool that allows users to signal their approval of individual pieces of content.

“Now that the mass population is start getting into Google Plus, it has a lot more relevance,” Mehraban said. “We would advise clients to make some modifications to play in that game. We always advise clients to have content that is very shareable.”

Shareable and searchable: That’s how to accumulate relevance.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter , follow him on Google Plus or subscribe to's newsletters.



Mon, Aug 1, 2011 : 7:57 p.m.

Everyone should know by now, putting all of your eggs in one basket is not a good business plan - even in advertising. Diversifying advertising methods and campaigns is the only way to keep your name in the game. Whether a business profits from online advertising - through websites and SEO practices, AdWords and using Social Media platforms - is entirely dependent upon the individual business. A new business looking to attract new, local customers can benefit greatly from online advertising through Social Media tools such as Facebook Deals, Groupon and yes - even Twitter. All it takes is one person to notice a good deal and it can spread quickly. Mr. Jacobs wonders "How about business building from good ol fashioned word of mouth from satisfied customers rather than marketing slight of hand?" These advertising tactics ARE the good ol fashioned word of mouth by today's standards. How many people will take the time in today's world to call 10 friends to gather feedback on the best deal on tires in town? Not many. But someone who knows he's going to need new tires soon will take notice of an online deal when they see it from a friend's post on Facebook, or a Tweet or even a Groupon that is passed along. Is Google+ the end of SEO? Absolutely not. The Internet is obviously not a phase or trend, and when the times change, other things must change too - including methods of advertising. The best advice anyone can give or receive is to simply try several methods to determine what works best for your business. If a billboard does the trick for you, that's great. It may be a phone book advertisement (those are still made right?) or even an *ahem* newspaper ad, but don't rule out Social Media advertising simply because you're afraid of the unknown. Become educated - then decide for yourself.


Sun, Jul 31, 2011 : 9:54 p.m.

These SEO firms will have to evelove and understand Social Preference Optimization to add value, most do not have the technical expertise. Do not dismiss Social Media so qucik, the redcross turned a single "tweet" into $33 million worth of donations to earthquake victims in Haiti. Starbucks, DirecTV, EMC, Coke, and many others have used social media effectively. I do agree firms who know little more than how to work Google's keyword tools and place keyword ads will be history.


Sat, Jul 30, 2011 : 3:25 p.m.

SEO and is akin to snake oil and most Adwords campaigns perform miserably on a cost vs bottom line growth & return. Lets run some real world business analysis and see what happened in the last decade of SEO + Adwords exuberance? More funds are extracted from the company and result in less quanity or quality of product or service. More SEO + Adwords doesn't make a company or service better, just like a crummy billboard it's just more "IN YOUR FACE". How about business building from good ol fashioned word of mouth from satisfied customers rather than marketing slight of hand? I want companies to spend as much of my $ on the product or service I'm getting. Groupon and other agressive couponing is evil in this respect will greatly contribute to the "Walmarting" of everything in America (drive product/service cost down by cheapening it or providing less of it).


Fri, Jul 29, 2011 : 7:35 p.m.

Meet the firms in town who overreact about the latest shiny object.


Fri, Jul 29, 2011 : 2:34 p.m.

I think this article is a bit too harsh on Google and a bit too credulous on Facebook. I want the best answer, not the answer that is popular with a limited number of my friends. More importantly, Google's revenue machine is proven and publicly reported; Facebook's revenue machine is less mature and less transparent.


Fri, Jul 29, 2011 : 12:37 p.m.

"Traditional search engine optimization may be on its deathbed and it doesn't even know it." I make my living in marketing analytics and I am not surprised by this statement. To survive in this industry, one would be wiser to learn and practice basic analytical/statistical/presentation skills and apply them to the latest and greatest methods as opposed to building a career on learning how a specific web entity handles data from its users. It's important to understand how proprietary search engines work to get your business visible. However, in job postings I have seen too much emphasis on Google, SEO, "social networking", etc. Many of those skills can be taught or learned on your own, but being able to dig into data from any source, create useful information, and effectively communicate learnings to others is a much higher skill that will go the distance. This is true of both a person you hire, as well as a company you build.


Fri, Jul 29, 2011 : 12:11 p.m.

Like a lot of new developments, Google Plus is only an addition to the plethora of search and social media. There may come a day when businesses can ignore their Google search results, but that day ain't here yet!

Jojo B

Fri, Jul 29, 2011 : 11:32 a.m.

Geeze, I'm in IT but I agree with jinxplayer... I see tech bubble if we have too many jobs in the area just based on web search results and leveraging social media. Hope there will still be companies left that offer physical product.


Fri, Jul 29, 2011 : 4:46 p.m.

My question for you... why do we 'need' companies that offer physical product?


Fri, Jul 29, 2011 : 11:21 a.m.

SEO companies like this are the next tech bubble. Leverage google adwords and "SEO Optmizations" (adding relevant words to links), to make your company stand out! (missing more buzz words, but you get the idea) Social Media is only going to make money for the people running the social media platforms. Try as you might, and promise all you can, but traditional companies should focus more on their local presence instead of online, else they will be bilked out of plenty of money offering them chances to "monetize twitter"


Fri, Jul 29, 2011 : 4:36 p.m.

"There is some truth in your fiction, and some fiction in your truth." The effectiveness of "social media"/"social networking" as a means of advertising is fickle at best. Certainly you can spread the word like wildfire if you gain favor, but you can also get burned badly if you anger its populace. However, it'd be a bit close-minded to throw your hands up and give up on the online world entirely. Incentive based advertising (like Groupon) provides an opportunity to reach a wider audience that you might never find with solely "local presence." Don't get me wrong; traditional advertising media still plays a key role, but it'd be a bit foolish to develop tunnel vision for one medium or the other.