How Google Plus changes the game for Ann Arbor's digital marketing firms
File photo | AnnArbor.com
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.
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 eMarketer.com. 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.