The other day I wrote an article about whether or not to use responsive design on a website. There are really only two choices nowadays – responsive or adaptive – and I recommended in the case of websites such as car dealer websites that adaptive was actually the better choice for now.
Needless to say, I received some nasty emails from those who are fans of responsive design. I, myself, am a big fan of responsive design and noted as much in the post. However, there are certain “heavy” websites that should lean towards adaptive until the internet infrastructure and delivery technology are mastered.
With that said, blogs must be responsive to succeed in today’s media consumption society. There was a time not too long ago when the big push was for “news nuggets”. It was a world that we thought we were getting into that focused less on long-form content and more on content that got to the point quickly. That was a false-positive on the death of long-form content and I was one of those who was (at least partially) wrong about it.
Today, people really do want to take their little gadgets that they carry with them everywhere and read a whole story.
More importantly for the sake of responsive design, blogs are “lite” websites. They aren’t car dealer websites. They aren’t realtor websites. They aren’t loaded (normally) with a ton of hi-res pictures, HD videos, and a ton of widgets and calls to action on every page.
Bloggers, if you thought I was talking to you the other day, I wasn’t. I’m talking to you now. Go responsive or go home.
There was a huge uproar in the search marketing and website design industry last year when Google came out and recommended responsive web design. While Google has been known to make recommendations in the past, they’ve never tackled this particular issue definitively until June, 2012. Since then, many companies have been scrambling to convert to a responsive design.
They reiterated the need for a mobile solution earlier this year when they said that they would soon stop showing web pages that improperly redirected to a different page when called up on mobile devices. The two pieces of news were combined because of a logical series of assumptions:
Google wants pages to render on any device
Responsive website design accomplishes the goal
Google likes responsive website design
Therefore, Google does not like adaptive website design
Everything is fine until you come to the conclusion. From a search perspective, properly coded adaptive websites with identical intents on all devices combined with proper transfer of HTML content are just as easy to rank well on Google as responsive website design.
As I researched this, I found one things that was disturbing and that needs to be addressed. The opinions most commonly expressed by companies weighing in on the debate between between responsive website design versus adaptive website design always ran parallel with the offerings of the company posting the opinion. If they offered responsive design, they said that responsive design was the only way to go. If they offered adaptive websites, they said that adaptive was the best way to go.
The unbiased publications that I read almost all came to the same conclusion – functionality of the site was much more important than the type of design used. In other words, if responsive design made it challenging for a website to function properly on mobile devices, then adaptive websites were recommended. If the flow was fine between devices and the path to turning to responsive design was an easy one, then that was the way to go.
I’m going to start with the “bias” on my end and finish this paragraph with the punchline. The bias is this: my company is developing responsive website design for our clients. The punchline is this: even with this knowledge, I still recommend adaptive for any website (including my clients’ websites) that are picture- and call-to-action-heavy on important pages such as inventory.
I have yet to see a responsive car dealer website that did not sacrifice functionality and speed for the sake of responsive design. I’ve seen both sides of the spectrum – websites that looked great and worked fine on mobile devices but that were bare-bones in their PC functionality and I’ve seen websites that looked great on a PC but that were too slow and rendered improperly on many mobile devices. I haven’t seen any that have done it “right” yet because of the nature of car dealer websites.
Most importantly, I’ve seen dealer websites that switched from adaptive to responsive that watched their website leads drop as a result. I have yet to see a single one that saw leads increase. This will change as responsive technology, internet speeds, third party plugins, and image crunching (especially for dealers that load up 30+ images on their vehicle detail pages) improves, but as of now responsive has been a huge flop.
I should also note that I jumped on the responsive bandwagon back in 2011 and strongly pushed for my company to adopt it way back then. Thankfully, we didn’t.
Final note on top of the other notes: for the majority of websites, responsive is likely the best solution. Car dealers have unique website formats. On any given page, especially the all-important vehicle details pages, there may be three or four plugins, a dozen calls-to-action, and dozens of photos that have to be brought in through 3G or 4G connections. The biggest difference between adaptive website design and responsive website design is when the changes are made to adjust for the device. On adaptive websites, the changes are server side, meaning that the data being sent is determined from the server before being sent to the device. With responsive design, the changes are client side, meaning that the whole web page is sent through and then the device is told how to piece it all together.
Here’s a very slanted infographic, one that actually does have some valid points (thankfully). Whoever built it likes adaptive and while they are being too harsh in my opinion about responsive, they still bring up some real challenges.
Having worked in the online marketing industry for over 10 years, I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go. I’ve also seen companies ascend the mighty internet mountain, only to pass out from the lack of oxygen and come tumbling back down.
Currently, there’s little doubt that Google stands atop that internet mountain. They’re the biggest, the baddest, and the most influential company on the internet, in my humble opinion.
If you want to find something on the internet, you most likely resort to using Google to find that something you’re looking for. This is especially true with finding businesses. However, I believe that the war for internet supremacy, while currently dominated by Google, will not ultimately be won by that behemoth.
Who do I believe will be the victor when the dust settles? Currently, I believe that company to be Facebook. Now, this could change. A newcomer could come on the scene and dethrone Facebook. My real point is; the internet won’t be won by a search company but rather a social media company. Here is the reason why.
Organic Search Bomb
Any business owner that relies on organic internet traffic has probably had the following experience.
One day, a business owner wakes up and sales aren’t coming in as regularly or perhaps the phone isn’t ringing as often as it usually does. Flummoxed, the business owner does a quick analysis of his company’s online marketing channels and finds nothing out of sorts. Then, he goes to Google and types in a familiar keyword that brings up his company’s website in the #1 spot.
To his amazement, his website isn’t in the top spot anymore. In fact, it’s all the way down at number 6!
He quickly calls his webmaster and asks all the usual questions. Did something happen? Did we do anything? Is something broken?
More and more I’m seeing this happen with my clients. And the funny thing is, it has nothing to do with what they’ve done, but rather, how they’re now being viewed. And the one doing the viewing is Google.
Maybe it was a Panda crawl, maybe it was Penguin or maybe it was some other covert aspect of Google’s algorithm that no longer likes the company’s website. The point is; they’ve taken a hit. They’re revenues have taken a hit. And this drop in rankings has caused serious damage to the company.
I’ve seen entire companies fold because of organic search problems. I’ve seen layoffs and downsizing due to this as well.
Social Media: Steady as She Goes
Now, let’s examine how this scenario would play out if the company we’re discussing drew most of their customers in through Facebook.
The business owner wakes up one morning. His sales are steady, his calls are coming in as expected, and his company is humming along. He logs into the admin side of Facebook and notices that his “likes” have jumped from 62,125 to over 63,000. Great news!
He gets his marketing department to develop an online promotion and posts it on the Facebook page. At which point, a good number of his followers share it, like it, and redeem the offer.
And this brings me to the point of this article. A company’s followers on Facebook won’t fluctuate due to an algorithmic change on Facebook’s part. The number won’t shoot down due to something completely out of the company’s control.
Yes, the company’s follower number can take a hit with bad press or a mistake on the company’s part. But, those actions are not nebulous and they’re usually easy to identify and find a solution. Unfortunately, the Google algorithm isn’t as easy to decipher.
Google’s Ultimate Downfall
As an SEO (search engine optimization) consultant, I read hundreds of blogs from industry insiders and Google employees. And I’m shocked at the lack of consensus on what actually affects Google rankings. You could take two “experts” in the SEO field and ask them what are the top 10 ranking factors and you’ll get two very different lists.
This also brings up the point of Google’s willingness to change the rules of the search engine game. They will make broad changes to their algorithm that affect thousands if not hundreds of thousands of companies and give little or no notice of the change. (Exact match domains, anyone?)
Whereas, Facebook actually seems to want to help companies increase their reach and exposure. (Graph Search, news feed optimization, etc.)
All of this doesn’t even take into account the fact that people trust a friend’s referral over an organic search result, but that’s an argument for another time.
The bottom line is this. Companies are built on the idea that they can make projections on revenues. A big part of those projections is their marketing. More and more, companies will find that social media offers a steadier, more efficient, and more reliable medium for marketing over organic search rankings. As this shift continues to take place, you’ll see more companies divert their marketing dollars towards Facebook.
I don’t know when Google will get light-headed from lack of oxygen, atop the internet mountain, and come tumbling down. But I do know that Facebook is well stocked with mountaineering supplies, and they’ve made base camp just below the summit. They’re just waiting for their opportunity to ascend.
For the last 7 years, I’ve been watching Google very closely. Sure, they are in the news all the time so it’s not something that’s exactly hard. What has been more challenging is keeping up with their long-standing obsession with social media and understanding why it’s so.
They have some big wins (YouTube, Google+) as well as dozens of losses (Orkut and just about everything else that they’ve touched that smells social). They looked at Facebook before Microsoft jumped on first. They took a long, hard look at Digg during the social news site’s heyday, then suddenly bailed out the moment they opened the books and saw the duct tape coding underlying the site.
Google knows two things very well about social media:
If they have any chance of truly transcending beyond technology to gain a true understanding of intent and desires, they need to get a ton of social data.
They haven’t been able to crack into the type of data that Facebook has about people.
Google+ is similar to people, but does not hold the attention of its users. It will get there. It has to. It’s Google’s last, best hope for getting this data.
The reason they want it so badly is because just about everything they rely upon (search, advertising dollars, fulfilling the hopes and expectations of their customers, just to name a few) as a company would be exponentially improved by understanding true sentiment. They have all of the data that people want. They just don’t have an easy way to perfect the delivery and usage of this data.
With this understanding, it’s much easier to anticipate what Google will do with their advertising platform as well as their search engine. They are close to perfecting the latter, believe it or not. Most will point to the rapid pace in which Google makes changes to their search algorithm, but that’s not an accurate characterization. They made major changes with Panda and Penguin. They made a minor (and completely overblown) change with their recent Hummingbird update. What we see now is close to the end game. Now, all they need to do is tweak it and wait for the next breakthrough.
They have achieved at plateau. Rather than major algorithm changes, they are now in the mode of perfecting the results by turning knobs rather than making the major changes that have hit every year since 2007. The holistic view of Google search that allows optimization to be broken down into the three major components (content, inbound links, and social signals) will not change until the reach a tipping point of understanding social data.
What’s the point of all this? That part is harder to explain. For years, I’ve been reading and experimenting the best ways to market on Google. Now that they’ve reached a plateau, the anticipation game has changed. Those of us who try to stay on top of current algorithm trends while looking ahead to the changes can sit back for a while. What we see is what we’re going to get for a while. It’s all about the three components. However, there is one thing that hasn’t manifested itself yet that technically changes everything.
The primary reason that Google wants to understand social data and personal sentiment is because they are on a quest for quality beyond the empirical data itself. The data is as good as it’s going to get through pure technology. They cannot advance the understanding of sentiment any further until a breakthrough. Today, the great search marketer will be doing two things:
Put out quality content with the proper mix of high-quality inbound links and social signals to improve rankings today.
Put out quality content with the proper mix of high-quality inbound links and social signals with the understanding that once they achieve their goal of understanding sentiment, the quality component will make the search rankings soar.
As you can see, it’s an approach that will kill two birds with one stone. There are challenges with the data that Google cannot reconcile today. For example, if someone wants to find a phone number for a business, they might search, click through to a website, find the number, and leave. This takes seconds and technically from Google’s current perspective this wasn’t a successful endeavor, especially if the searcher then clicks back to the search results and goes to a different site. Even though the mission was accomplished by the searcher, Google will count this as a bounce and a short time on site.
On the other hand, someone might be looking for something in particular, land on a page from a Google search, click around trying to find what they wanted, get frustrated when they can’t find it, and leave. From Google’s perspective, this was a good visit. From the searcher’s perspective, it was an utter failure.
This is the type of sentiment that Google wants to understand. They want to know if you like what they presented to you. They want to know if their information was useful to you. They want to know if a website they “recommended” by having it listed first in the search engine helped you achieve a goal. Today, they can only guess. Tomorrow, they may be able to find out with a near certainty. At that point, we’ll see the next major upgrade in search. One might even call it “quantum search” since it would probably take a quantum computer for them to make sense of all that data.
There’s a misconception that has been permeating across many industries over the past couple of years. It’s the thought that “reputation management” is about getting positive reviews on sites like Yelp, Google+, and Merchant Circle. While that’s a portion of it in theory, the practice of it has turned into a huge monster that is ready to burst… possibly before the end of 2013.
It’s not the fault of the businesses nor is it really the fault of the reputation management firms. It comes down to the review sites themselves that have found themselves in the predicament of needing more reviews to gain relevance while also wanting those reviews to be legitimate. Some, such as Yelp and Google, are taking steps to eliminate the fake reviews, but even then there’s a challenge. It isn’t always easy to tell what’s real and what’s fake.
The bubble that’s going to burst surrounds two components of many reputation management services: automation and filtering. With automation, the same responses are made on dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of reviews. These are the businesses responding to people, but they’re canned and the review sites don’t like that. Google recently removed thousands of these automated replies spread across hundreds of Google+ pages.
The other aspect is much more nefarious. It is called filtering. In it, a company uses a 2-step process for soliciting reviews. In the first email, they ask the customer to take a quick survey about their experience. If the survey comes back positive, they then receive an email asking them to let the world know about their experience on the review sites, often with links to the appropriate ones.
If the first response comes back negative, the second email is much different. It is consoling. It is apologetic. It declares a need for something to be done about it and normally promises that the response is going straight to the top to be handled by the manager or the owner.
At no point in this second situation are the customers told to post a review. This friendly/unfriendly test before soliciting reviews is filtering. It’s frowned upon by most review sites and is a breach of terms of service in some. What’s worse is that if a major publication knew about it, they would certainly come down hard on the parent companies or the individual companies themselves for trying to manipulate their public reputation.
The right way to solicit reviews is through a transparent, single step process. Businesses that take pride in their service and boldly ask for reviews regardless of the perspective of the customer is the only way to get reviews the whitehat way.
That’s not where it ends, though. Getting more reviews is important, but handling the reviews – good and bad – in an appropriate manner is the real juice in reputation management. This isn’t just about getting a higher star-ranking. It’s about being gracious and humble to those that leave a good review and being helpful to those who leave a bad review.
The responses to bad reviews can be more powerful than a positive review. Nobody expects a business to be perfect. They make mistakes. When these mistakes are made, the willingness to listen to the challenges, try to offer solutions, and be sincerely sorry for the bad experience can go a long way towards helping a business improve their chances of getting more business.
In other words, negative reviews can be more helpful than positive ones in many circumstances.
The other component of reputation management that few companies explore is the search engine reputation component. Review sites are almost invisible if they’re not found on search. To see what people will be viewing, do four searches:
[Business Name] [City]
[Business Name] Reviews
[Business Name] Complaints
The results on the first page of the search engine results pages will be what people are seeing. The things that appear on page two are threats or opportunities. The things that appear on page three or beyond are invisible.
The absolute most important part of reputation management is service itself. If you’re getting bad reviews, it’s not a random occurrence. It’s not “those damn internet folks” trying to ruin your business. It’s probably not your competitors or former employees being vindictive.
If you’re getting a lot of bad reviews, you might just want to improve the way you do business with your customers. As strange as it may sound, your reputation management issues may be justified. Fix those first. Everything else is just strategy and technique.
A few months ago I ate at a restaurant and wrote a review. It wasn’t a bad review – I believe I either gave the restaurant three or four stars out of five – but it wasn’t a triumphant, best-gyro-ever review, either.
A few days later I received an email from Yelp saying that the review had been removed “because it lacks a firsthand customer experience.” Now, considering I ate there, wrote about my first hand experience, and even posted a picture on yelp of the Indian statue at the front door, I’m not sure how first hand one needs to get.
That’s not a big deal, actually. When a company is that big, it’s understandable that mistakes will happen. In fact, I was pleased that they’re being diligent about making sure that the reviews are as authentic as possible. The problem was that there is nobody to talk to, no way to communicate, and no chance of correcting the mistake.
I emailed several times. I Tweeted at them several times. I searched the site for a way to correct such errors. Nothing.
One might think, “what’s the big deal?”
It’s just an online review, right? Well, yes and no. It’s important from the perspective that a voice of the public trying to express an opinion about a local business for their peers to see and use for guidance was removed and given zero chance of making things right. My review was not important. The fact that this can happen is scary.
The worst case scenario is that reviews become untrustworthy and they no longer bring the value that they promise to the users. Yelp is striving to fix that. The other end of the spectrum – the ability to correct improper filters – is a huge mess. I’ve seen clients find this to be challenging. I’ve had friends who have found this to be challenging.
It’s their site and they can do whatever they want with it. However, when legitimate reviews are tossed out and given no chance of being recovered, it’s no longer simply a mistake. It’s blatant censorship. Some might say that the word is too harsh for such a situation, but there’s no other way to put it. If there was a way to challenge the filter and prove that the review was real, then it would be nothing to worry about at all. It’s a countermeasure to falsified reviews and that’s definitely necessary. Unfortunately, the fact that they have no method to correct improper deletions IS censorship.
Until they figure out how to correct this by allowing users to contest their filtering, the service cannot be trusted. It is simply incapable of painting an accurate picture as long as this is a problem.
Does Google+ influence search rankings to any noticeable degree? It’s one of the most hotly debated issues in all of search engine optimization and digital marketing right now. A lot of people, experts included, are claiming that not only does Google+ have an affect on rankings, it is one of the most important ranking factors going. Other people, also experts included, are saying that it makes no appreciable difference. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Let’s take a look at the newest opinion to hit the scene, one that carries a lot of weight.
You’ve finally got your Pinterest strategy up and running. And you can tell it’s working because your photos and videos are getting more likes than you ever thought possible. But like any marketing strategy, it could be just a little bit better. Fortunately, Pinterest has a wide range of tools that can help.
A little over a year ago, I stopped using the term, “EdgeRank” when referring to the algorithm that Facebook uses to determine when and where in the news feed that posts appear. Someone at Facebook had told me that it was no longer used so I stopped talking about it.
The worlds of automotive social media and automotive search marketing are converging. We’ve known this for a while and I’ve been preparing for the collision in order to help our clients make the most out of the changes. The only thing I wasn’t expecting was how tremendously complex it all was going to be.