Google Ads is Not the Silver Bullet to Your Engagement Problem

Whenever I first sit down with a client to talk about customer engagement, one of the very first questions I get is: “Can’t we just do some Google Advertising”?

My response is almost always the same: “It is inadvisable at this point in time”, usually said while sipping tea and peering over the edge of my glasses (not really, I hate tea, but I do wear glasses).

Unfortunately, there is a paucity of general knowledge surrounding how search engines like Google work, and, given the push of countries like India to become a 100% digital economy, this needs to change if businesses and indeed citizens intend on successfully adapting to this new environment.

In a lengthy post that may be more conducive to a video format, here are the three main reasons why Google Ads is not going to solve your engagement problem:

1. Google changed the way it ranks pages

Way back in 2015, Google released its Phantom Update. This update redefined the way in which pages are ranked. The update saw content categorised into two types of pages based on their level of influence: YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) and non-YMYL pages.

YMYL pages include:

  • Shopping Transaction Pages
  • Financial Information
  • Medical Information
  • Legal Information etc.

Given the effect that these pages have on either your money or your life, these are ranked to a higher standard than non-YMYL pages. To be considered high-quality (and make your way to to the top of the search results), YMYL pages need to establish Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (EAT).

Unfortunately, there is no single action that you can do to establish EAT; it needs to be built up over time and here’s how:

  • About Us Page – The About Us page is, apart from the Home and Contact Us page, the most visited page on any website. So, spend some time on this; keep it concise yet informative. How would you describe your business in one sentence to someone who knows nothing about your product and services? Think of it as your company’s elevator pitch and emphasise your USP/SMP in short and engaging sentences. If you work in a technical or regulated industry, include bios of your team members and don’t forget to link to their LinkedIn bios (if appropriate).
  • High Quality and Regular Content – By posting relevant and accurate content on a regular basis, you’re telling search engines like Google that you’re up to speed on the latest industry knowledge. For highly regulated organisations in the medical, legal, or financial sector, this is critical.
  • Backlinks – Backlinks are still one of Google’s top ways of determining page rank. Look at who your key refers are and see if you can team up to create co-branded content. Encourage backlinking by linking to external sites. Make sure that when promoting through social media, your posts link back to your website, otherwise you’re wasting a perfectly good post.
  • Go Mobile – Google started indexing Mobile first this year, so, if your website isn’t mobile optimised or at least mobile-friendly, then you need to get that fixed. Like yesterday.
  • Practice good SEO – Remember in the old-style western films where the Villains wore the Black hats, and the Heroes wore White Hats? Don’t be a Black Hat – Use White Hat Techniques. If you’re not sure which SEO techniques are Black and which are White, check out this infographic from Cognitive SEO for a brief overview.

2. SEO does not have an on/off button

“Let’s put our competitor names in our keywords and that way we can appear when people look for our competitor?”.

No. Here’s why:

  1. It won’t work
  2. It’s keyword stuffing, and that leads to penalties.

Back when Google was in its infancy, keywords were one of the main tools used for improving search engine ranking. Today, in this humble Marketer’s opinion, they have become more like a bottle-opener keychains – handy to have, but not crucial. At the end of the day, it’s going to be your content, backlinks, landing pages, and social media activity that gets you to the top of the search engine heap and not adding a single line of text into your metadata.

3. Google doesn’t care about your money

Spending more money does not mean that you are going to get better results when using Google Ads (formerly AdWords). At the end of the day, Google aims to provide a service to its users; providing relevant and recent results – this is why they are the number one search engine in the world. I am sorry to say, but Google doesn’t care about your $2,000 per month spend on Google Ads – it’s just a drop in the ocean for them. If your page isn’t useful to the searcher, then no amount of money spent on Google Ads is going to fix that – only time and hard work will.

If you want to know more about Google’s Keyword Bidding system, then check out this video from Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian:

Google’s New Site Standards

In November 2015, Google released its updated Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines; a thrilling 160-page document designed to put the most determined readers to sleep. So, how do these new guidelines, dubbed the Phantom Update, affect marketers? In essence, it has changed how the search engine assesses the ranking of a website, and in the land of SEO, quality is King.

At its core, there are only two things you really need to know when it comes to the update: YMYL and EAT (don’t you just love Acronyms?).

YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) is Google’s new term for web pages that offer content that could potentially affect a user’s future happiness, health, or wealth. These include:

  • Shopping or Financial Transaction Pages: pages that allow users to make purchases, transfer money, pay bills etc
  • Financial Information Pages: pages that provide advice or information about investments, taxes, retirement planning, home purchases, insurance etc
  • Medical information pages: pages that provide information about health, diseases, medication, nutrition etc
  • Legal information pages: pages offering legal advice on issues such as divorce, child custody, becoming a citizen etc
  • Other: Depending on their content, pages such as child adoption and care safety could also be considered YMYL.

Because of their level of influence on the user, YMYL pages are assessed at a higher standard than other web content. This is where EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) comes into play.

To be considered high quality, whether a YMYL site or not, content needs to be authoritative and trustworthy as well as possessing expertise. However, not all content is equal (for example YMYL and non-YMYL) and this will ultimately determine the level of expertise that is required to be considered high quality. This is where Google distinguishes between ‘formal expertise’ and ‘everyday expertise’.

Most YMYL content requires a high level of formal expertise; they need to be written by experts such as doctors, accountants etc. The pages must also be regularly updated and contain a much higher level of detail than non-YMYL pages.

Non-YMYL pages on the other hand, require less formal expertise, or everyday expertise. That being said, they still require a high-level of EAT, but the author does not require a certification to provide comment for example. An example that Google uses is a forum where people may participate authoritatively on an issue or subject. As long as the content provided is valuable and useful for readers, it is still considered expert content.

Google’s Phantom Update is resounding evidence of industry trends: quantity v quality. By changing the way Google assesses the quality of content, it places the onus back on the author: “Is what I am producing of value to the reader?”. Take into consideration these changes and you will notice an improvement in your overall SEO health. Alternatively, ignore them at your own risk.