Day 2: Google
If you haven’t addressed Google in your online brand strategy, well, then you simply don’t have an online brand strategy! Google’s role on the net and online advertising and promotion is indescribably vast, from its core advertising business and search, to its social platform, to the generous role Google plays in ongoing technology research, understanding the company will help you better understand your own business and how you relate online.
Day 2 is all about Google! We did a quick overview of some of the Google tools that are available to you but really focused on three that are important to get started.
Day 2 Recap
First things first, we need to understand what Google is, as a company. We know the company as a pioneer in search, and as was overwhelmingly demonstrated in class today, it’s the go to place when you need to know something or other. But Google is much more than that…
According to the table above from Google’s 10-k investment report, 98.3% of the company’s total revenue comes directly from advertising. Google is an advertising company, first and foremost. That means that all of the decisions made by the company, if you dig deep enough, are tied somehow to getting more people’s eyeballs on ads.
No, that isn’t directly related to building your brand, but doing so online involves having a clear-eyed understanding of the motivations and whims of this company that plays such a large role in our work to do so.
To play with any of the tools we talked about today, you’ll need a Google Account. That’s Google’s universal login which will give you access to their entire suite of tools. I strongly recommend you grab one if you haven’t yet, which you can do by visiting http://gmail.com and signing up for a new Gmail email address. If you already have a Gmail account, you don’t need to worry — you already have a Google Account.
GOOGLE THE ADVERTISER
We talked a lot about the Google advertising system. We talked too much about it, frankly. Yes, you all should have an understanding of just how the advertising system works, and how the Pay-per-Click (PPC) bid system works (paying Google every time someone clicks on your ad as opposed to a display ad in which you pay every time someone sees your ad), but that generally comes after you’ve already built enough of a storytelling practice around your online brand.
Key takeaways here are thus:
- Pay-per-Click is all about the bid, and you get what you pay for. For your text ad to show up on the first or second page of Google’s search results page, you need to bid high. You can use Google’s Keyword Analysis Tool to get a sense for just how high you’ll have to bid for your terms. Generally speaking, the more “common” the terms, the higher the price; the more focused the terms, the lower the price. We’re talking about the price you’ll pay each time someone clicks on one of your ads here, so those bids can add up in a hurry!
- PPC is highly geographically targeted. That’s a great opportunity for smaller businesses as targeting a narrow geography separates you from big national players. Users are now fully aware that they’ll get better results for, “Youth yoga in Buffalo” than simply, “Youth Yoga,” so if you’re a youth yoga joint in Buffalo you’ll want to bid accordingly.
- Understanding keywords can help you define your editorial practice. I’ll talk more about this in a bit, but keep it in mind. Understanding the keywords that people are searching for to land on your site can help you steer new visitors to your site, simply by creating new posts and stories that include the more relevant keywords. For example, if I’m the Jackson Center and I discover that people are suddenly landing on my site by keywords, “Voting Rights Act,” I’ve uncovered a new locus of interest. I might strongly consider writing a new post, securing an interview with a specialist in the field, or creating a Google+ Hangout On-Air session around Voting Rights highlighting Jackson’s perspectives on the act and recent SCOTUS activity in this area (certainly a hot topic right now). This way, you’re making a connection between the stories you have to tell, and the natural orbit of current events around you.
Take a look at this screenshot from Google Adwords. It’s the Google Keyword Research tool which you can find when you sign in to your account at google.com/adwords:
In it, you can see some of the important data that Google gives you to help you plan your campaign, like which search terms rank highest in monthly activity, face the highest competition, and are going to cost you higher in your projected “bid” accordingly.
Search Engine Optimization
Just a quick point on SEO, and the practice of it, reviewing our conversation yesterday.
Keywording is a mysterious art. What is happening here is that Google is determining the concentration of terms across the aggregated content on your site, and matching the weight of those terms in a relevance score when someone searches for those terms. The more you write about the specific terms, “Project Management,” for example, the more relevant your site becomes for that term when someone searches for it on the web.
This leads to a great big CAUTION! There is a practice in old school Search Engine Optimization called keyword stuffing. If you’re keyword stuffing, you’re using the words project management more than would likely be used in a given body of text. That ends up becoming what Google calls keyword spam, and it’s an effort to increase the relevance of your site for the term project management by repeating the phrase over and over and over again.
As we discussed in class, in the early days of the web and Google, we would load tens — maybe hundreds — of keywords into the metadata of the site (the hidden header information that users don’t see, but search engines do). We might have included these same keywords in the footer of each web page, but hidden in the same font color as the background color of the page rendering them invisible. Simply not gentlemanly.
Bottom line is this: if you’re writing about project management, write naturally. Google is smart enough to know when your content is a rich resource of project management know-how, and when you’re trying to game the system.
As you’re building a relationship with a technologist to help you through setting up your online infrastructure remember if they promise you that they can make your site land on the front page of Google, they likely can’t help you. You’re looking for someone that understands the way search engine providers index sites and build rank and authority. Because of the highly dynamic nature of this field, it’s impossible to make this promise anymore. Only good, smart, and focused content delivered consistently over time will build your rank and authority in search engines.
No technologist can do this — I’m afraid the full weight of that work is on you.
GOOGLE THE ANALYTICATOR
Google Analytics is a gift to us, a freebie that gives us a window into some of the data that Google is tracking for our sites. In order to begin tracking, you first need to configure a new profile in Analytics, then enter the tracking code that Analytics provides into your site’s hidden meta data. We didn’t cover this configuration in class, since the how-and-where differs from platform to platform, but your technologist should have this part down. The important part of this discussion is simply to give you a sense of what kind of data you can track and the questions you can ask your technology partner to learn more. Yesterday, I showed you the analytics results in Squarespace. Google Analytics is very similar.
The key metrics that you’ll be able to track in your analytics account, as displayed in the screenshot above, are:
- Visits: The total number of visitors to your site, tracked by IP address. Due to the complications behind networking, it’s possible that unique visitors in a given time period may share an IP address (behind a corporate network, for example), so this number isn’t gospel, but it’s pretty close.
- Pages/Visit: The average number of pages viewed by your visitors.
- Pageviews: The total number of pages viewed by all visitors to the site
- Avg. Visit Duration: The average stay on your site. This is a measure of stickiness, or the ability of your content to keep people on your site.
- % New Visits: The percentage of users who have never visited your site before, a good indicator of your broader promotional efforts.
- Bounce Rate: The percentage of users who visit your site, see only one page, and then go somewhere else.
Each of these measures is an indicator of broad performance of your site as measured by how your site is read by the Google crawler. It is not the be all-end all of your site, but if your objective is organic discovery, these metrics can help you tune your publishing efforts to drive activity.
(Organic discovery, meaning people arrive at your site based on your content, and how that content is read by the search engines. This is in contrast to Paid discovery, clicks that arrive to your site from paid promotion, PPC advertising, etc.)
We reviewed two other areas in the Analytics platform specifically: All traffic sources, and search terms.
All traffic is an indicator of where your traffic is coming from. In the image above, we see that 676 visitors over this time period came to the site organically. That means they visited Google.com, searched for some set of terms, and clicked on the unpaid listing for this site that appeared in search results. Remember, anywhere you see the word organic, that’s a good thing: it’s a sign that your unpaid promotional efforts are working.
We also see a healthy number of referral listings. A referral is a click to our site from another site. For example, number 2 in the list above is a an independent directory of PMP resources. It’s highly trafficked and their publication in a recent blog post on free PDUs has really popped for our site this week. This is one I’m going to be keeping an eye on.
The more referrals you have, the better you’re doing at becoming a thought-leader in your space—it can serve an indicator of how other sites view you as a reference to your topic, and the traffic that they send you as a result. If you’re getting referrals from sites you’ve never visited, take a minute to visit their site and, if appropriate, send them a thank you for helping to drive your traffic!
One more important term — Organic Search gives us an idea of what people are searching for in the Google search engine to be delivered to your site. I love this report. It tells me both what I’m doing right — that there is some sense to our publishing rigor and people are getting what they want — and what I could do better. Popularity of some keywords on your site should lead to inspiration to create more content and uncover hidden demand from your readers!
The challenge is that Google has recently changed the way they track user search queries. Now, all that delicious search data is secured between users and Google’s search results. That means that those results are private to the individual, so Google no longer reports those results in analytics. It’s no longer as useful a tool for helping you build an editorial platform, but you’ll still get hints, so it’s worth keeping in mind.
GOOGLE THE SOCIALIZER
We talked just a bit about Google+, Google’s answer to Facebook.
The G+ Authority Connection
Make sure to visit Google+ and complete your profile. Include all your relevant biographical data, locations lived and served, and links to all your other online profiles. From there, you’ll be tied into the Google search infrastructure in a whole new way. By including a link from your profile on Google+ to your website, and a link back from your website to your profile on Google+, your profile image will start to show up in search results that serve links to your site, and Google+ will index your site more favorably.
Now, in class, I told you that this connection between Google and your site (along with the sites you write for as a guest) would allow you to display your user photo in Google’s main search results. That is absolutely true, if I was writing this five days ago.
As it turns out, five auspicious days ago, Google announced that they were ceasing this practice in favor of a simplified results layout. From the SearchEngineWatch:
Google’s John Mueller announced on Google+ today that Google will cease showing author profile images and Google+ circle counts in desktop and mobile search results. This global change will roll out over the next few days.
“We’ve been doing lots of work to clean up the visual design of our search results, in particular creating a better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices,” he wrote. “As a part of this, we’re simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop search results, removing the profile photo and circle count.”
That doesn’t mean this connection isn’t important, just that I can’t show off my ugly mug in Google search results anymore, and I know you’re all as heartbroken about that as I am. Instead of my picture, you get the author byline, which is still fancy, as shown:
Google+ Hangouts On-Air
For years, PR people have struggled to get mass media attention through major broadcasters. That’s still the case, but Google’s offering here has brought mass media to the hands of every small and medium-sized organizations in a way that has those of us in the business very excited. The Hangout On-Air makes all of us broadcasters, and makes you the producer of your own station.
The Hangout itself is a 10-way audio/video conferencing application hidden within Google+. The platform is quite rich, particularly for team meetings, allowing you to share documents and other tools right in the meeting application.
But, enabling the On-Air feature, you turn your Hangout into a live Internet broadcast to the world. Once you press the “Broadcast Now” button, your Hangout will be simulcast on your personal Google+ Profile, your associated YouTube page, and can be embedded into your own website like any other YouTube video, allowing you to create a branded landing page for your event.
And all of this is available for free.
The Hangout is an enormously powerful communication tool. I hope hearing of this starts to get you excited to experiment. Consider chats with authors and other subject matter experts. Consider how-to sessions and conversations with other noted experts. Consider equipment reviews and commentary around major media events. Any way to add this more interactive and visual element to your sites will add dimension and texture and keep your visitors coming back for more.