Google has been remarkably transparent lately in telling marketers and brands and businesses how to rank better in search. The trick, of course, is not try to rank. It’s to think about what your customer wants to accomplish and creating authentic, outstanding content that provides them an excellent experience. Hmm… that sounds like something I might have heard somewhere along the way.
Google’s recent transparency suggests that maybe, just maybe, Google is de-emphasizing organic search in favor of paid media. There’s a strong argument to be made there; after all, that’s where they make their money.
But is that what’s happening? I’m not entirely convinced. Why not? What is Google (probably) up to? And what does it mean for your business going forward? Well, that’s what this episode of the Thinks Out Loud podcast is all about.
Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.
Is Google Telling Us That Organic Search Doesn’t Matter Any Longer? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 392) Headlines and Show Notes
Show Notes and Links
- Google Launches August 2023 Core Update
- Google Podcast Sheds Light On Ranking Systems & Updates
- A Guide to Google Search Ranking Systems | Google Search Central | Documentation | Google for Developers
- Big Tech Earnings and The State of Digital Q3 2023 (Thinks Out Loud Episode 390)
- Is Social Media Anti-Social for your Brand Now? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 391)
- Happy Birthday Google (Small Business E-commerce Link Digest – 9/12/2008) – Tim Peter & Associates
- Why Amazon Is Going to Launch a Search Engine (Thinks Out Loud Episode 345)
- The Biggest Lesson About Artificial Intelligence in Marketing from Google Marketing Live 2023 (Thinks Out Loud Episode 386)
- Will ChatGPT Kill Google? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 367)
- Revisiting The Early Innings of AI in Marketing
- Revisiting Will AI and ChatGPT Kill Your Search Traffic? (Thinks Out Loud)
- The End of Google? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 372)
- Should Your Business Use ChatGPT? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 379)
- Is ChatGPT Going to Steal Your Job? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 371)
You might also enjoy this webinar I recently participated in with Miles Partnership that looked at "The Power of Generative AI and ChatGPT: What It Means for Tourism & Hospitality" here:
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- Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix. As a bonus, here’s a PDF that can help you assess your company’s digital maturity. You can use this to better understand where your company excels and where its opportunities lie. And, of course, we’re here to help if you need it. The Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix rates your company’s effectiveness — Ad Hoc, Aware, Striving, Driving — in 6 key areas in digital today, including:
- Customer Focus
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Transcript: Is Google Telling Us That Organic Search Doesn’t Matter Any Longer?
Well hello again everyone and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 392 of the Big Show. And thank you so much for tuning in. I really appreciate it. I think we’ve got a cool show for you today.
This episode builds on a variety of things we’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks and really the last couple of years with all the changes going on in search. And it was inspired by an email that I got from Denise. So Denise sent a couple of emails. We went back and forth a little bit. But, you know, she’s been asking about how Google has been more transparent in the way that they are talking about search and what people should do and the like. And she asked the question, "Is Google more transparent because organic search doesn’t matter as much as it used to?"
And that’s a fascinating question. I don’t know. And I think the answer is probably not. I don’t think that’s why it’s so. But hang with me in any case. There’s a lot to unpack behind that question. And it’s a thought provoking concept that really sets up how we might want to think about what we do in marketing for the next, you know couple of years.
Full disclosure, I don’t think of myself as an SEO. Like that’s not my primary job. I’m a digital strategist first and foremost. It’s also true that search tends to account for half of all traffic or more to most sites in most verticals and certainly in all of the verticals that I tend to work in. Talking about digital without talking about search and without talking about Google is like talking about movies without talking about Citizen Kane or _The Godfather__, right?
Even with all the change and disruption we’re experiencing around search today, if your digital strategy doesn’t take into account Google, the largest site on the internet, its benefits, its risks, its pros, its cons, you cannot possibly have a complete, coherent digital marketing strategy for your business. And at least from one perspective, we have to think about what Google means to your business, which we will get into a little bit deeper into the episode.
I want to start though by talking about Search Generative Experience (SGE), which is Google’s new generative AI… I don’t want to say powered; I want to say enhanced search experience. It is something where they’re incorporating generative AI, you know, generated text into the search results answering the customer’s questions much the way you might see from ChatGPT and above the search results. You can test this out today, you can go to Google, you have to do it in Chrome, but you can see it. More importantly, you can interact with it.
What I find really fascinating about this is that I’ve said for years that "customers don’t want a search engine, they want a find engine." They want something that simply answers their questions. And that’s what Google is increasingly offering.
If you think about it, that’s what many generative AI search focused tools do, whether it’s ChatGPT, whether it’s Bing Chat, whether it’s Claude 2 from Anthropic, they’re not pointing to you to where the answers are. They’re giving you the answer. And the folks who monetize search this way, like Google specifically, place ads alongside the answers within the search results. That’s how they make money. I suspect that’s how many of them are going to make money over the longer term. There will be subscription models for certain business cases, for certain use cases. But generally speaking, if it’s consumer facing, it’s probably going to be paid for by ads.
And this gets to the crux of Denise’s question. Wouldn’t Google want you to have high quality content because they’re going to downplay organic search and they’re going to up vote, you know, they’re going to put more prominence on the answers that they’re giving.
Now this is important because Google makes most of its money, 58% of its revenue, as we talked about a couple of weeks ago, from search specifically. And it’s absolutely true that Google wants those ads to represent good experiences, high quality offerings for their customers. They have to.
I recommend other service providers to my clients all the time. I’m sure you do as well. Do I recommend crappy service providers? Nope. Absolutely not. Never, in fact. When I make a recommendation, I want to be sure that the person or company I’m introducing my clients to takes exceptionally good care of my client. You undoubtedly do the same thing. Google can’t possibly want to provide a bad experience.
And when we think about ads, they don’t want "who pays the most" to be the defining characteristic of which ad they show. Google, they want to make sure that any ad they show works as a good answer. Then they might be able to say, "sure, we’ll put who pays the most up top." Because that will work well for the searcher and for Google. So there’s certainly some merit in them telling all of us how to better answer their customers’ questions — and the emphasis here is on their customers.
We think of the people who search often as our customers, as we rightly should. But Google thinks of them as their customers for sure. And Google’s been pretty transparent for some time about doing the right thing for those users, for those customers.
It’s become very trendy lately to say that "you shouldn’t write for a search engine, you should write for a user." "You should do audience research, not keyword research." And generally speaking, that’s true. What’s also true is that savvy marketers have been doing that for years. There are three and a half billion searches every single day.
Who do you suppose conducts all of those searches? The engine doesn’t ask questions on its own, people do. Savvy, sophisticated marketers have been focused for years not on the search engine, but on the searcher. Now ironically, that’s what Google wants you to do, and it’s particularly true when we talk about something like Search Generative Experience (SGE).
Because they can then recommend people freely, they can put an ad alongside their answer because they know whatever site they’re linking to that has taken that approach will provide a great experience to their customers. And then, who are we kidding, they can safely begin giving greater credence to those who pay the most, so they get to make more money.
In some ways, it becomes a win-win-win from that perspective. The reason that I don’t think they’re being more transparent, you know, solely because organic doesn’t matter, is because organic does matter to them. Even as they are driven more and more by ads, they need those ads to be a good answer to a customer’s question.
And they’re going to use, they undoubtedly have to use, a "trust but verify" system. Organic search algorithms are their verification method. They crawl the sites and preference those sites that give better answers and give better experiences. If you look at the work they’re doing with Core Web Vitals and some of the changes they’re making next spring, there’s a new there’s a new feature called INP. I don’t recall what it stands for at the moment. Again, not an SEO, right? But it’s all about better experiences.
So that’s true that it’s something that they want to do because they want to create great experiences for customers. And in this case, everything they’re telling you to do works for organic search as well. So it genuinely works to your advantage in either case.
The bigger question I would be saying is how does this change the way we think about marketing? Does it change the way we think about marketing? And if you’ve been thinking about your customers this way all along, if you’ve been thinking about customer experience this way all along, then I hope not.
I don’t think it will change what we’re doing. I’ve talked for a while about a three step process that you want to think about for your business. I call it the "Royal Court Framework." You’ve heard me refer to this many times. "Content is king. Customer experience is queen. Data is your crown jewels." That’s exactly what we’re talking about here.
Look at what Google recommends. They’re saying create great content that solves a customer’s need. There was a recent podcast, Google’s Danny Sullivan, basically said that Google provides information to help people improve their content for people, not just to chase rankings. This is a direct quote:
"Now, more than ever, having that authentic content that you created because you have an actual audience in mind that you know would come to it directly, that is your way forward as you try to navigate this world of how ranking systems are evolving."
Again, that’s a direct quote. They also provided advice related to their August core update, which just launched in the last couple days and will be rolling out over the next few weeks. They gave very specific tips. "Look closely at pages that aren’t performing well. Check what search terms led people to those pages. Compare your content to the questions Google provides on its help page." And I’ll link to this in the show notes. So you’ll have access to that.
What are they talking about there though? They’re talking about content. They’re telling you that content is in fact King.
Why do they want this? Well, because customer experience is queen. Google knows that if a customer has a bad experience on your site, that bad experience reflects poorly on Google as well as you. There are no areas of Google’s business that A.) require customers to use their service and B.) generate meaningful revenues or profits for the company.
We talked about this a couple of weeks ago when assessing the state of digital in Q3. I mentioned it at the top of the show. Google makes 58% of its revenues from search and 78% from advertising overall. Virtually all of its profits come from just those two categories, search and advertising. Yet their customers could use Bing Chat or ChatGPT or Claude or Amazon’s Alexa tomorrow, simply by opening a different app or typing a different URL.
Google’s vulnerability here is why I’m still convinced that Amazon will launch its own consumer facing search engine one of these days. I could be wrong. But Amazon has to recognize that Google may be strong, but that its strength is brittle. Google has to give customers a great customer experience, or it will lose those customers to people who do, to companies who do. The switching cost isn’t effectively zero. It is zero. For Google, more than just about anyone, customer experience is queen because it’s the only way that they get customers to keep coming back.
Of course, if you take care of content and make sure content is king and treat it as such, if you take care of customer experience and treat it as such, it’s fair to ask what you get out of it. Well, you get a variety of things out of it. Obviously, you get satisfied customers. You get repeat business. You get more traffic. You get more positive word of mouth.
You also gain data. You get understanding of what matters to your customer. You learn more so that you can do a better job. It becomes a virtuous flywheel. In some ways, Google is providing more of these insights, more of this data, more understanding than they have around how to produce great content and deliver customer experiences that our customers expect. Because they recognize that’s what’s going to keep them in business. You know, if you get to stay in business, that’s a nice plus… but that’s not the part that matters to them. The part that matters to them is "How do we, Google, stay in business?"
Now, they give you lots of data. They give you things like Google Search Console and Google Analytics. I mean, they’re free, right? You can use these today and they’re becoming more transparent. Because they recognize they need the overall experience to be more positive.
I don’t want to be naive. Denise may be right. Over time, they may devalue organic search. But I think they will always need to rely on it to know what are the best sites. So that they know which advertisers to prioritize; not just which organic rankings to prioritize. So one of the things you want to do is think about the data that you have that Google doesn’t have.
Now obviously you have your analytics data, which is great. You should use that. You also have things like site search data. I’ve talked about this in past episodes. But what are people looking for on your site? If you have a search engine, what are they searching for? We’ve got research, we’ve seen, working with a variety of companies, that people who search on your website convert roughly 40% more often than those that don’t. And it can be as high as 200%.
Now I want to be fair, they’re not buying, they’re not downloading, they’re not signing up, they’re not doing what have you because they’re searching. They’re searching because they are ready and willing and able to buy or download or sign up or what have you. And they’re telling you what they think is most important.
They’re asking you to help them navigate to the places that will let them do what they want to do. They’re literally saying, I want to buy, help me, call me crazy, but I’d want to keep an eye on those searches and on that data. Data is your crown jewels, and I simply don’t see any evidence that this "Royal Court Framework," that "content is king, customer experience is queen, and data is your crown jewels," is changing anytime soon.
In fact, I would strongly suggest that all of Google’s activities really do support that notion, that that is the world in which we’re going to be living for some time to come.
So, is that it though? Well, not really. There’s at least one other thing I would add. One, on the content side, we have to think about content distribution.
We cannot just rely on Google because we know "gatekeepers gonna gate." By the way, we shouldn’t just rely on any one source. Gatekeepers are going to gate. However, as I said at the top of the episode, Google is the biggest site on the internet. They are probably half of your traffic, if not more. So we definitely want to not rely on them more than anybody, right?
They have a lot of power and a lot of ability to really hurt your business if they make dramatic changes in the way things work. And this is something we’ve talked about before, but it’s worth repeating. You need to make content distribution part of your ideation process. You need to be thinking about content distribution from the moment you start thinking about creating new content.
And ironically, Google can be the source of some really valuable information right here. You can use Google to see what kind of content works best. You know, when you’re creating new content or you’re thinking of creating new content, look and see what Google is showing for searches around those kinds of terms.
Maybe you’re better served offering a video or an image or an infographic than just a text page. Google is clearly showing you these are the kinds of content, these are the kinds of experiences that customers expect when they’re looking for an answer to a specific question. Use that to say, I want to make content in that format because that’s going to help me be seen and help me provide a better experience for my customer.
Doesn’t mean you can’t do the other versions too. Content reuse is a big deal. Take a video and use the script and make that a text piece or part of it. Take some images from that and make that an infographic for sure. But you want to think about how do we get this content in front of people beyond just search.
Remember too that social media is your friend. As we discussed last week. Social media is far from antisocial. So you want to think about how do I repurpose whatever content I’m creating? How do I make it work on whether it’s Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn if you’re B2B? What is the appropriate social media channel for these, or social media channels for this piece of content to get it to the broadest audience beyond just search?
You all know if you’ve listened to this show for any length of time, I’m a huge fan of email. Get your content directly in your customers inboxes. Which means that it’s also really important that you grow your email list over time. We’ve calculated the value of email addresses for lots and lots of different companies over the years.
An email address can range in value to you in terms of future value from as little as two to three bucks and as high in my experience as a few hundred dollars or more depending on the size of your purchase and what your, your conversion rate tends to be over the life cycle of owning that email address.
So when you’re thinking about conversion on your website, when you’re thinking about conversion on your social channels, think about are you creating ways to connect with customers directly, to engage with them directly. We also tend to recommend segmenting your email lists into all kinds of different people. So your regular customers, but customers based on their recency, their frequency and monetary value. Past customers, if they haven’t connected in a while. Prospects, both current and past. Are you sharing content with them that might be relevant to them?
And then your friends and family. And what I mean by that, I mean friends and family of your business. Who internally among your employees, your advisors, and actual friends, actual colleagues you have in your industry, can you share it with? And more importantly, who will share that content on your behalf? Also, you want to make sure you’re linking to your new content from somewhere on your site. Give people a way to navigate to it. And finally, think about the influencers or creators who might also want to share content who might want to share your new content with their audience, with their friends and family and fans and followers on social. Those can all be great ways to build your network, to build a broader community, and to get your content seen by more people.
So, do I think that Google is more transparent because organic search doesn’t matter as much? Not really. At the same time, we want to learn from what they’re telling us, where they’re being transparent, because it underscores that "content is king, customer experience is queen, and data is your crown jewels."
It underscores the need to think about content distribution from the beginning, so that we can show up in front of our customers, no matter where they find us, whether it’s search, whether it’s social, whether it’s email, whether it’s our broader community as a whole. All of those together work together to ensure that you can still be seen and you can still be heard and your customers can still find you and come to you and buy from you.
And ultimately, that’s what we always want to be doing so that as gatekeepers try to gate, we’ve got a whole other set of roads we can walk down to get to our customers. And I don’t know how to be any more transparent on that topic than that.
Show Closing and Credits
Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week.
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