• Dan White

YOUR MARKETING & GOOGLE IN THE NEW, NEW NORMAL


What now? That’s been the question which has plagued me for the past 12 months of life in and out of lockdown.

It’s a common enough question and of course I ask a lot when it comes to clients and their websites. The latest ‘what now?’ though is; what happens now we’re out of Lockdown 3.0? Just where do things stand between you and Google now we’re in the new, new normal?

A lot of changed in the past 12 months - and using pre-pandemic assumptions to make new plans can have serious implications to your marketing budgets.

So, writing from the perspective of someone worn down by a full year of the UK pandemic we’ll take a look at:

  • What the Google landscape looks like in 2021

  • What’s going on with organic results

  • What’s going on with paid results

  • What you need to do to still get results

THE CURRENT GOOGLE LANDSCAPE

Internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales in the UK were at their highest ever in January 2021 (Source: ONS). A whopping 36.3% of all sales took place online. Pre-pandemic? Just 19.1%.

With so much of that funnelling through Google, that’s a lot of people you could be getting in front of. But getting in front of people is increasingly harder than it once was. As a quick recap, we need to look at a standard SERP. I picked the results for ‘dumbbells for sale’ based on a UK desktop search in April 2021. I would show the full screenshot but at 9,000px high it was easier just to show the most common features. From top to bottom we have:

REGULAR SEARCH ADS

(Although SERP’s also show Shopping Ads)


GOOGLE FEATURES - LIKE GOOGLE MY BUSINESS

(Although there’s a stack of others)


ORGANIC SERP RESULTS


Let’s take a look at each:


ORGANIC RESULTS + GOOGLE FEATURES


I’m going to say it. ranking organically - whether it’s in organic results or via a Google feature is SO. MUCH. HARDER. TO. DO.


Google’s algorithms are increasingly complex. Their requirements more technical. The output needed to rank is so much greater in the never-ending arms race with competitors. 10 years ago in my first SEO job I could spin a blog post, pepper it with keywords and within days you’re bringing in traffic. It was a 1 person job, siloed from the rest of the business. But not any more.


As the algorithm evolves, the way we work needs to follow suit.


Ideal SEO is a multi-disciplinary skill requiring buy-in and input from multiple teams across a business. This idea shouldn’t be that new - or even that revolutionary. But what it does mean is that Google’s changes mean SEO isn’t so much of a technical problem which needs solving in 2021. It’s a business problem.

What that looks like in practice is that instead of locking myself in a room crowbarring keywords into content I’m:

  • Speaking to recognised experts for creating content with Google EAT in mind

  • Working with developers to improve site speed for Core Web Vitals

  • Learning from PR teams about latest trends we can capitalise on

WHAT WE CAN DO

Staying in the Google game means you need to know so much more than just SEO. You need to know to break down knowledge silo’s, get buy-in, establish roles and responsibilities. Do this and SEO has the potential to flourish. Making it happen though is no easy feat which is why SEO Consultancy can be so useful.


If you need 1 person who can help solve this though and that is Tom Critchlow. His free SEO MBA offers exceptional advice and input which is so sorely lacking to make this all happen. >> Tom Critchlow’s SEO MBA


PAID RESULTS


Let’s turn our attention to paid Ad results. What’s going on with them?


Like organic results, the paid marketplace has been volatile, to say the least, with who is bidding on what. It doesn’t need me to explain that there’s been some major winners and losers during 2020. Away from the outliers though, what’s more interesting is how those in the middle are being affected; where so many businesses have been carrying on as best they can.


Based on my experiences what we’re seeing is a real fluctuations in Avg. CPC (and subsequent CPA).

There’s two reasons for this:


The first is more businesses in the marketplace - many often advertising online for the first time.

Even with great quality scores our budgets are being squeezed by businesses both intentionally and unintentionally bidding on the same keywords. This is of course our challenge to overcome, but with one client we’ve seen the number of competitors bidding on keywords increase by a 1/3rd in 12 months.


Secondly, we’re seeing a real mismatch between budgets and demand. The array of restrictions, rules and lockdowns has meant rapid changes in consumer behaviour. That’s meant budgets haven’t been enough for periods of demand and have gone unspent in unexpected lulls. Naturally, we try to forecast based on previous data but with 2020, being 2020 well, who knows what’s around the corner?


WHAT WE CAN DO

First, I’ve come to recognise that if new competitors are on the scene then budgets may need to increase - even to generate the same returns. These can be uncomfortable conversations with clients, particularly at times when budgets are already stretched. However, It’s better to recognise the situation for what it is now and plan accordingly.


Google Ads need even greater attention - not because the settings are more complicated but budgets need to become more reactive. Setting an Ad budget for the next financial year and running with it for a full 12 months can’t be allowed to happen.


Working on this means changing our way of working. This boils down to:

  • Spending a lot more time in Google Trends to see what’s going up and down in as close to real-time as we can get

  • Logging and reviewing every competitor who gets picked up in our search terms reports -so we can see the new players on the market

  • Keeping a very close eye on our Auction Insights, with particular attention on our overlap rate to see how competitive our key-keywords are becoming

These are the practical solutions which give us data but without the wider business it can’t turn into effective actions. So, once again it comes back to making sure we can feed into the wider business and the wider business can feed into us. So, what does this come back to?


WHAT CAN WE DO?

Whether it’s organic, paid or a combination of the two you’re focussed on, for businesses big and small, the answer for getting staying on Google in 2021 is collaboration. That means teams talking to other teams, clearly, confidently and proactively to share insights.


Here’s an example:


Last summer I was chatting with my client’s marketing manager about their SEO. We were working hard to add new content onto the site because there were a tonne of opportunities for phrases they should be ranking for. However, the energy and enthusiasm just wasn’t there. Resource was thin and budgets were tight so upping content production just wasn’t possible. We were scratching our heads about what to do. Was there another area of SEO we should focus on? Should we allocate more budget to paid? In the middle of talking he randomly mentions the newsletter another team sends out -


Filled. With. Content.


Within 24 hours we had access to a vault of archived content from MailChimp ready to add to the site.


It’s only by talking by and I really hate this phrase, but by ‘joining the dots’ that SEO can work and work a whole lot more effectively. I wish I could offer up a more technical explanation for getting ahead, but that’s it. Collaboration and communication are hard but if you can get it right then it should see you through any change to the search landscape; regardless of what Google or the wider world throw our way.