Google has rolled out a significant change in their natural search algorithm, announced last Friday. According to industry bloggers, the new change might be connected to a Google’s patent submitted last May: Query rewriting with entity detection (U.S. Patent 7,536,382).
Historically, a Google keyword search (brand or non brand) would only result in a single subdomain such as ‘www.yourdomain.com’ appearing one or two times within the natural rankings. But today, the number of ranking opportunities for a single subdomain (and consequently a portfolio of subdomains) has expanded to an unknown limit. Therefore, if a given domain according to Google’s judgment (algorithm) provides multiple results across unique URLs, the domain might rank numerous times. This update shakes up the natural rankings and potential domination strategies for certain types of search queries, those with a “brand plus” combination.
Brand Plus = A search query that includes a brand name + keyword phrase
For example: Previously, a domain www.amazon.com might have only occupied two top rank positions for a search on brand plus term such as “Amazon bedding,” but today Google allows www.amazon.com URLs to rank for nearly all page one results.
Google’s update appears to be a step towards better supporting highly navigational queries, and in a sense restricting the scope of this to branded search terms for now. In the past, search engines have rolled out various means to assist searchers in this respect, but this is the most extreme manifestation of it to date. (Remember the additional search box ?) In fact, the revise algorithm produces very similar search results as seen in Google’s advanced site colon search.
The new result shakeup does not appear to be affecting all brands equally, arguably by establishing a threshold for brand entities that exhibit a high level of navigational click-through. Retailers offering products across many verticals such as Amazon are able to surface a large amount of options on the first search result page for brand + category keywords.
If you are investing heavily in search, it’s important to evaluate some key areas that coincide with the update:
-Evaluate trends in your natural traffic, specifically for brand plus keywords to measure any lift that has occurred.
-Begin testing strategies in your Google PPC campaigns to alter “brand plus keyword” budgets, bid tactics, those aligned to keywords now rendering multiple natural rankings or total page dominance.
-Review the website’s top level navigation and taxonomy to understand if certain categories or sub categories are producing more authority in relation to the Google update. As you learn more, consider new SEO best practices to capitalize on, such as domain authority for your “brands + keywords.”
- Evaluate individual domains under your ownership. Hosting tactics should be considered, for example ‘http://www.parentbrand.com/subbrand/content.html‘ vs. ‘http://www.subrand.com/content.html.’ Evaluate the pros and cons of both scenarios.
- Determine if your domain(s) offer enough content to even support multiple brand plus rankings.
- If you do have multiple brand plus rankings, how well do your title and meta data read in the SERPs, and do they produce optimal user click-through rates? Appraise those ranking URLs to ensure the landing page experience delivers on conversion goals.
–Retail sites should evaluate shopping comparison engine performance for any new changes in performance. Shopping Comparison Engines such as bizrate, mysimon, shopzilla along with affiliate sites will probably get hit hard by the update, becoming suppressed in the rankings. In turn, retail brands who actively participate in Shopping Comparison Engines are likely see a decrease in traffic or CSE revenues over the next month. But, they should not panic! It’s very likely that traffic and revenue is being seen through natural clicks without a CPC routed through the shopping comparison listing previously ranking.
These are just a few initial things to look out for. Google is not averse to test and learn with these evolving algorithmic conditions, but the update appears official for now. As Google states in their blog post: “We are always reassessing our ranking and user interface, making hundreds of changes each year. We expect today’s improvement will help users find deeper results from a single site, while still providing diversity on the results page.”
Regardless, the update is now in effect, and marketers must start evaluating “brand plus” keywords in their search campaigns. Site owners should not be surprised if natural traffic notices a lift for these terms.