Marketers do, however, need to keep up with them, even if search engine marketing is a small part of their job.

At a recent Econsultancy event in Singapore, Digital Outlook 2017 Part 2 hosted by NTUC, delegates received an overview of several significant changes Google has made recently. Here are four provided by search engine marketing expert Eu Gene Ang, Econsultancy’s lead trainer in Asia.

1) It’s time to take another look at your AdWords campaigns

Search engine marketing is not always core to a brand’s digital strategy and, as a result, AdWords campaigns can often be left unattended for lengthy periods.

Eu Gene advised that brands should revisit AdWords now, though, as the search engine results page (SERP) has changed dramatically in the past couple of years.

First off, the SERP used to have two columns, with one dedicated to AdWords ads, but it is now a single column designed to appear the same on mobile and desktop.

While that change may seem somewhat trivial, one important thing for marketers to note is that the old SERP had up to 11 ads at the top of the page…

…and now the top of the SERP only has four ads with three more at the bottom.

As the potential ad space on the first SERP has been reduced from 11 to seven, optimizing keywords and bids has never been more important.

Another major change to the SERP is that the AdWords ad text has been greatly expanded. Previously advertisers were limited to a headline, sub-header, and a link.

Now advertisers have much more space to draw attention to their brand, internal sitelinks and even reviews.

Marketers are advised to review their current AdWords ads and read up on the extensions at the Google support site.

Keyword bidding strategies have also had a number of upgrades over the years. While advertisers can still bid on individual campaigns, ad sets and keywords, Google has added multiple strategies which will make your life easier. These include:

  • Target search page location – to help you stay at the top of the SERP
  • Target CPA – in which you set a conversion goal (cost per acquisition) and ask AdWords to budget based on that conversion
  • Target outranking share – to help your ads stay ahead of a specific competitor
  • Maximize clicks – to drive the most traffic to your site
  • Enhanced CPC (cost per click) – which adjusts your manual bids to help you get more conversions

More detail on each of these strategies can be found at Google’s AdWords support site, but in short the recommendation from Eu Gene is that marketers should avoid spending a lot of time on manual bidding and ‘let Google’s AI do your bidding for you!’

2) Organic search engine optimisation is changing, too

A whole industry has blossomed around optimising content and page markup for Google, commonly known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

However, as Eu Gene pointed out, nearly all of SEO is based on the notion that Google is an ‘information engine’ which simply reads web page content and stores it in an indexed database. The theory behind SEO is that the easier you make it for Google to read, store and recall your site’s information, the more optimized your page is for a top position on the SERP.

Now, however, Google is changing from an ‘information engine’ to a ‘knowledge engine’.  Instead of showing search results only based on keywords, Google now aims to understand each user’s intent and provide the best answer it can on the front page.

This change is quite noticeable when searching on a well-indexed topic like a movie, a company or a country. While Google still offers results based on the keyword, the SERP also displays ‘knowledge’ (as Google searches semantically, finding the data it believes the user wants to see).

Here we can see that a search for ‘Laos’ not only provides a normal SERP (left), but there is also a ‘Knowledge Panel’ on the right containing commonly-sought detail about the subject.

What this means is that marketers must re-examine their keyword strategy and ensure they are not trying to optimize for short keyword terms which are already well catered to by Google.

Additionally, for retail brands, Google may offer locally relevant business information in the Knowledge Panel.  While Google indicates that it is not possible for marketers to change this panel directly, best practice is to keep all information on the brand website up-to-date so that the brand’s site remains the central authority of brand information.

3) Google is going mobile in a big way (again)

On April 21st, 2015 Google updated its algorithm to rank web pages which appeared correctly on mobile higher than those which were optimized for desktop.  Known coloquially as ‘mobilegeddon’, this update resulted in a 21% decrease in non mobile-friendly pages on the first three pages of search results, according to BrightEdge.

As Google said at the time, however, ‘mobilegeddon’ was just the beginning.

Recently, Google announced that it will be splitting its page index into two indices, one for pages which are optimised for mobile and another for those which are not.

Attendees were also warned that the index for non mobile-optimized will not be updated as often as the mobile-optimized index. This means that brands who are not optimized for mobile may not have the most up-to-date information in Google and may not even appear in a mobile search.

Delegates whose brands have not yet optimised all of their web properties for mobile viewing were highly advised to do so now.

4) RankBrain is a new, and misunderstood, SEO ranking factor

Finally, Eu Gene told delegates about a new Google ranking factor which uses artificial intelligence to process search results and provide more relevant results for users. Called ‘RankBrain’, it has been widely misunderstood by many marketers as just another SEO ranking factor for which they will have to optimise their website.

According to Google’s Gary Illyes, though, there is no RankBrain ‘score’ and it is not possible to optimise a website for RankBrain.

Instead, RankBrain acts as an interpreter of both the searcher’s intent and website content in order to find the best match for the user.

To ensure that brand websites do not fall in ranking, Eu Gene suggested that marketers should ensure that content is:

  • Fresh – so that searchers are likely to be seeing recently relevant information
  • Engaging – as RankBrain will assess whether previous searchers have been satisfied by results
  • Deep – so that RankBrain can better assess the relevance of the page for a searcher

While this seems like a difficult list to follow, Google has always advised that web content should ‘provide high-quality content’ through a ‘helpful, information-rich site’ with page which ‘clearly and accurately describe your topic.’

So, the best practice for RankBrain is simply to follow the same steps to a Google-friendly site which have been recommended now for many years.

A word of thanks

Econsultancy would like to thank Eu Gene Ang, Lead Trainer, Asia, Econsultancy for his presentation as well as the delegates who took time out of their busy schedules to attend.

We hope to see you all at future Singapore Econsultancy events!