Top SEO, SEM, Social & Analytics Happenings of 2011

2011 was a busy year for car dealers and other small businesses trying to keep up with what’s going on in search engine marketing. Here’s a quick list of what we feel were some of the most important happenings in 2011.

Google “not providing” organic keyword data for logged in Google users.
Back in October Google announced they would no longer pass organic keyword query data for logged in Google users performing searches. As a result in Google Analytics and other analytics applications will receive a value of “(not provided)” in place of the users query. While Google is approaching this as a security feature for users there is no personally identifiable information available to webmasters that would present a security or privacy issue. This is what has webmasters and site owners up in arms about the loss of information that will help build better experiences for users. For most of our car dealers the impact is relatively small. We’re seeing approximately 10% to 13% of dealer traffic being affected by this.
http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/10/making-search-more-secure.html

Google’s “Panda” Algorithm Updates
This year Google released a series of algorithm updates that affect poorly written, copied or other content deemed poor quality. Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land referred to the initial shift as the “Farmer Update” because content farm type sites were primarily affected. Google later called the updates “Panda,” named after the engineer behind the formulas used to identify the content. Over the course of 2011 Google released additional iterations and tweaks of the algorithm with a variety of implications including: improved ranking placement for video content for some search queries and downgrading signals for sites/pages that aren’t offering relevant content in relationship to overall page content. Sites heavy on ads have been noticeably affected. Overall, very few automotive sites have been affected unless there were issues of poorly written content, content duplicated from other sites or content heavy on grammatical and spelling errors.
http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/finding-more-high-quality-sites-in.html
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html
http://searchengineland.com/minor-google-panda-update-on-november-18th-101891

Bing’s Stance on Meta Keywords
We’ve known for more than two years that Google doesn’t make use of the meta keywords tag but we’ve not known for sure what Bing’s position was. Leave it to Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land to get to the bottom of the story and learn that Bing does make use of the keywords meta tag, …. as a SPAM SIGNAL! Basically Duane Forrester of Bing confirmed that they see a high correlation between keyword stuffed pages and keyword stuffed meta tags – so they use that information accordingly.

While ClickMotive continues to make limited use of the meta keywords tag for non SEO purposes; we regularly see dealers and so called third party “SEO Experts” recommending changes to meta keywords tags. Hopefully this new information will serve to educate all concerned.

Google Expanded Site Links
For many brand specific queries Google introduced an expansion of sitelinks. Sitelinks normally appear below an initial listing with links to some deeper pages of the site that a user might be interested in. The expanded links for most brand searches now consume the area of the results page above the fold. For business owners this is a great feature that makes it easier for users to find relevant content but also pushes some review, directory and third party site content further down the page; a real plus from a reputation management perspective. The new format (shown below features larger links with urls and snippet text to help users. In some cases businesses can have up to 12 sitelinks in addition to the primary link for the homepage of the site. Most car dealerships are seeing up to 6 sitelinks.

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/evolution-of-sitelinks-expanded-and.html
http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2011/08/googles-expanded-sitelinks.html

Google Places Updates
In the past two years Google has made numerous changes to how local business search results are displayed.  One of the biggest changes in 2011 was the expansion of information provided for queries for specific businesses or points of interest. Where Google feels certain that it knows the intent of the user they now display additional map, image, business details and review information to the right of the search results listing. This new information with the previously introduced expanded site links means that fewer users are likely to have to scroll down the page or refine their search queries to find exactly the information they are looking for. Notice how the sitelinks mentioned above also help fill a large portion of the page.

http://insidesearch.blogspot.com/2011/10/new-way-to-get-information-about-real.html
http://searchengineland.com/google-raises-local-search-stakes-with-new-places-serp-99627

Google Places Reviews
This past year Google started using their own review information as the primary source for star ratings meaning that reviews submitted on DealerRater, Yelp and other third party sites were given less weight. As a result many dealers that had previously ignored Google in favor of third party sites may have seen star ratings plummet. While Google is still the biggest dog on the block and an obvious choice as a primary source of reviews we’re in favor of gathering reviews from wherever users are able to leave them.

Google Introduces Modified Broad Match Type in Adwords
In 2011 Google introduced a new keyword match type “Modified Broad Match” which gives PPC practitioners greater control over how Google matches on keywords. With this new match type we can specify that one or more keywords in an expression must appear in order for an ad to be triggered. In the past a broad match term like “Ford Dallas” could cause an ad to be triggered for a wide variety of terms where either of the individual words were used or even searches using similar words that might be unrelated.

Changes to Google AdWords Algorithms
Yes you read that correctly…. Google does make changes related to Adwords and in October they made an adjustment that affected landing page quality that had the potential to impact quality scores for AdWords advertisers. Fortunately our dealer clients’ sites didn’t suffer as a result of this change.
http://adwords.blogspot.com/2011/10/ads-quality-improvements-rolling-out.html

Google Analytics and a Year of Updates
Google Analytics introduced version 5 of the popular free analytics package and more changes in 2011 than in any previous years that we can think of. From an update of the interface and reports to a new version of the Analytics Help Center and tons of new ways to slice, diced and segment user activity on websites Google has really outdone themselves.
While there are more new features and updates to easily list here a complete list can be found at http://analytics.blogspot.com/search/label/New%20Google%20Analytics and check back here in the coming weeks for more details on how car dealers can make use of some of the most important features.

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