A HIPPO Internet Marketing Training blog by Corey Creed

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New Info on How Social Affects Search

October 19th, 2011

Google’s at it again!

Google just released a “new feature” that has search marketers freaking out.  Danny Sullivan explains it on his blog (Search Engine Land) here.  But I’ll give you the short story and how we may use it to our benefit, especially for those involved in Social Media.

Here’s the short story… 

When someone is logged in to Google and clicks on a natural listing (non-paid) to get to your site, Google will no longer show you what they originally typed into Google.  NOTE: This is valuable information that every analytics program has reported on for years.

For example, if you own a website, you can see that a certain percentage of your visitors came from search engines.  Of those, you can drill down to see what search phrase they typed in.  For site owners, this is valuable data.

Until now, we have used this information to determine which phrase brings the best visitors (that eventually convert to leads or customers).  We can also find certain phrases that perhaps don’t bring much traffic, yet convert well.  We then try to find a way to rank better for those phrases that bring a little traffic so that they can bring more traffic.

Don’t totally freak out yet…

The truth is, Google is only making this change for visitors that are logged in while using Google.  Google claims that less than 10% of users are logged in when they search.

(Most of us aren’t believing that one.  But we’ll see.  Even if it is true, it will likely grow.)

Overall, it’s bad news for search marketers.  Less data is something we never appreciate.  Knowing how to read good data is often the key to success.

Here’s how it affects social…

As a side benefit though, we may finally now start learning how many users actually are logged in while using Google.  This is something Chris Penn recently asked at a Social Fresh event to Brandon Uttley and Roy Morejon during their session on how Social affects Search.

It’s a good question.  Google is definitely changing the looks of search results when a person is logged in.  It may over time start changing the actual rankings of search results more and more.  (I have my doubts on that one.  But it’s possible.)  But it all depends on the user being logged in while using Google.

So, in about a week, take a look at your analytics.  Drill down to those that visited your site via Google.  In general, you will see what phrase they used to find your site.  However, make note of those that came via “(not provided)”.  Those are the ones that found you while logged into Google (and via a natural search listing).

Losing this information stinks.  But if we look on the bright side, at least we can get a general feel of how many are actually signed into Google and have the potential (or already have) been affected by social media factors.

NOTE:  Don’t get too excited.  Just because they were logged in does not mean social had anything to do with it.  It just means it could have.

Your thoughts?

  • Thanks for the article. First I heard of it and will check it out.

  • Brent Friar

    My first reaction was that there is no way that the number of logged in users is under 10%. Then I took a quick look at 10/18 for a site that get’s about 1000 visitors per day. Of those, 350ish came from google and only 3 came back with not provided for the keywords.

    That number is going to change dramatically though as Google starts integrating G+ and the +1 button throughout their properties. I know I am in the minority now, but I am always logged in to Google.

    • Yea, I was a little surprised at how few log in to Google.  I guess it’s something I take for granted.  I’m in Google Analytics, Google Docs, Google Webmaster Tools, and Google AdWords every day.  So I’m seldom logged out.  I think that’s what Google wants, but it probably only is the online marketers that are logged in for the most part.  We’ll see.

  • Karen M.

    Thanks for this article, Corey. Always appreciate your perspective on things! Can you explain what you mean by “Just because they were logged in does not mean social had anything to do with it.  It just means it could have.” How does being logged in to Google relate to SM? Do you mean Google +?

    • If you are logged in to Google, your search results will look different.  Do a search on my name and you’ll see several of the results have my picture by them because I have “plus one” them.  In fact, if you log out, you may notice the order of those results change a little.  Thus, some are concluding that doing social media will affect search rankings and therefore click-thrus.  Make sense?

  • Chris

    This shows how important it is to have your Adwords data feed your SEO efforts.  As far as I can tell, in GA the Adwords>Keywords>Matched Search Query Report still works.  Here you can see all the things people actually typed in and what Adwords keyword was matched up with it. 

    This puts those who know Adwords and use it for their SEO at a distinct advantage vs. those who don’t. 

    • I agree.  I think that Google AdWords is highly underestimated by most marketers.  There are so many advantages to using it effectively as a keyword research tool and for traffic.  Google is definitely giving the advantage to those that use it well.

  • Karen M.

    Gosh, no. I understand the order of the results may change if you log out but when I log out I still see your picture. I just don’t get how that has to do with SM.

  • Karen M.

    Yes, and yes….

    • So when you do a Google search for my name, does the SERP look different if you are logged in or not?  Don’t you see more pictures when logged in?

  • Karen M.

    Now I do, yes. A bunch. It looks like maybe you +1’d a bunch of things — last time I checked nothing was different when I logged out. Okay, so yes, I see a difference.

    • So now you see how social affects search.  It only happens when you are logged in.  Similarly, Google does not give referrer data when you are checked in.

  • Karen M.

    So yeah, it sounds like we are talking about Google Plus. That’s what I was asking originally:

    “How does being logged in to Google relate to SM? Do you mean Google +? “

    • It’s not just Google Plus.  They were doing something very similar with Twitter until just recently.  They may again.  In fact, some believe what happens on Facebook Pages and Twitter may be affecting the order of the rankings now.

  • Karen M.

    What do you mean?

  • While this new change does make it a little harder to analyze your search data, we shouldn’t be surprised.  Google is constantly changing the rules.  As SEOs all we can do is make necessary changes to our strategy and continue trying new things.  

    • Very true.  It can be frustrating at times though.  Personally, I don’t think this one is quite as big as some other things they’ve done.  Most won’t really feel the pain for quite a while, if ever.  Sites like Mashable should be ticked off though.  Google really pulled the rug out from them.  I’m confident that most users that are looking for that kind of content will be “logged in” to Google while searching.

  • Jen

    I wasn’t aware of this change either.  Thanks for passing on the information and explaining it clearly.  It will stink to lose some of this valuable data, but I guess you’ve pointed out a bright side as well.  

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