What Will Google SERP Changes Mean for Reputation Management?
Some say ranking is dead. Google’s going though changes that may turn SEO on its ear. Google’s Matt Cutts talked about some of these changes with WebProNews not too long ago. "I’m not sure I would say ranking is dead but it’s not as important as it used to be," he said.
Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are going to get a lot more personalized moving into the future. It’s already started, but will continue to become increasingly noticeable. This raises some questions not only about SEO and ranking, but how one manages their online reputation. The fact that different people will be seeing different results in a search for your name or your company’s name is going to throw a few forks in the spokes of the online reputation management process.
Google recently launched SearchWiki, a way for Google users to rearrange their own search results and vote specific results up or down, leave comments, etc. This is one element of personalized search that has some industry professionals a little worried.
"I’d say that the most significant thing to happen in the search industry in 2008 was the advent of more personalized search, and even more so, the new addition of SearchWiki showing up in Google," High Rankings CEO Jill Whalen recently told me. "It’s too soon to really know what will happen with that, but my guess is that it will cause some reputation management nightmares for many companies."
It’s going to affect how marketers help their own clients maintain positive reputations as well. WebProNews Blog Partner Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim, who created the online reputation-monitoring tool Trackur, talked a little about this with me.
"It’s certainly something to be concerned about–especially when you consider that Google hasn’t placed much constraint on its use," he explains. "For example, what’s to stop a competitor’s employees from littering SearchWiki with negative ‘reviews’ about your business? How will that be policed? Google has indicated that SearchWiki data may be included in the regular algorithm in the future, but has been somewhat vague about how companies can address falsely posted comments."
The future isn’t necessarily all bad for reputation management though.
"On the other side of the coin, we have Google’s plans to further personalize search results based upon an individuals preferences and search history," Beal tells me. "I’m intrigued by a number of possibilities here, not all of which are negative."
"First, one web site’s ‘vote down’ is another’s ‘vote up,’" he explains. "Think about it. OK, so a user could vote down your web listing, but they could just as easily vote down your competitor. Now, instead of spending endless nights worrying about how to move from #2 on Google to #1, your target customer just did the job for you–albeit confined to their search browser only."
"Secondly, let’s go with the worst case scenario and assume that a user voted down your listing in Google," Beal continues. "They would have done that anyway! OK, so now they have the option to actually vote you off the Google ‘island’ but prior to this feature, they were mentally excluding you anyway–so you’ve not lost much."
As has become popular opinion of where Internet marketing will go as a result of Google’s changes, people are going to have to start worrying less about where their site is ranked in Google, and more about analytics, and how their site is presented.
"Businesses will finally realize the vital importance of not just ‘ranking’ but also displaying a compelling TITLE and description/snippet," Beal says. "If a searcher’s finger is hovering over the voting buttons, you want to make sure that your listing is enticing and engaging. A TITLE stuffed with keywords might get you to #3 in Google, but if the guy at #8 has a really engaging offer in his TITLE–you get voted down, he gets voted up."
The truth of the matter is, nobody really knows for sure what new online reputation management strategies are going to have be implemented when things like intent-based search and personalization become the everyday norm. I would venture to say however, that Internet marketers are going to need to be savvy in the reputation management area. Perhaps more so than traditional SEO. We’ll see where it goes.