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What's New in Technology for February 2012

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Technology: Understanding How Google’s Search Engine Changes Affect You

Staying on top of search engine optimization (SEO) is critical for all marketers, whether they are Fortune 500 companies or small businesses. This can be daunting for small firms without IT departments or big marketing budgets. Over the past couple of years, revisions to Google’s indexing infrastructure – the “caffeine web indexing system” – have brought both benefits and headaches to small business owners. For most entrepreneurs, the effort to keep web content constantly fresh and their SEO practices up-to-date is a challenge. Any changes that Google makes to the algorithm – the indexing infrastructure that makes the search process work – can (and do) affect the flow of web traffic. Obviously, changes that diminish a company’s visibility on the Internet can severely affect its bottom line. Google’s recent changes – made toward the end of 2011– have brought both accolades and protests. Here is a top line summary of what you need to know:

  1. What has changed

    The launch of Google Search Plus Your World or Google+ is the latest big news in search engine development. A Google+ user’s search results will include posts and links shared by the people the user follows on Google+. Googlehas stated that the change to the algorithm will help users with different search needs and different “freshness needs.”  Perhaps it is helpful to think of “freshness” as the difference between updates on “red hot” or breaking news (financial announcements, major news, sports scores or air or road accident reports) and frequent updates (consumer reports on coffeemakers or hotel ratings). Google’s statements say that the change is designed to allow Google to crawl and index the web much faster for timely news on an enormous scale. Google alone controls the algorithm that determines relevancy in Google searches.

  2. Why does it matter?

    Google+ incorporates elements of social searches. Some business leaders believe this could muddy the Google Search process, making the results less relevant for business users. They fear the new algorithm will push company names or brands down further in the search listings, making them less visible during search processes. To avoid this problem, business owners should consider getting on Google+ and putting their key words on their Google+ pages. The new “+ process” includes posts and searches shared by people you follow on Google+. Some business people fear that Google – by stacking the new Google+ into their main search process – will favor its own users at the expense of relevancy. At a user level, the changes have an impact on privacy – though it should be noted that neither Facebook nor Twitter gives Google sufficient access to index their respective contents. Nevertheless, the privacy issue is important. Information from Google+ users that is currently not displayed publicly might show up in unexpected places. For example, a user might come across an old post from a contact and might decide to repost it where anyone might see it.

  3. What’s the point of these changes?

    Industry experts think that Google’s continued leadership position requires the company to gain prominence within social media. Google+ is their major entry into the social segment. They note that changing its search algorithm to drive traffic through Google+ gives Google’s social media positioning a huge boost. For its part, Google says that the new algorithm will give users more relevant and up-to-date results that take into account subjective definitions of “recent” (i.e. breaking political news vs. this month’s train schedule).
    There are many issues still under discussion among industry experts. Regardless of the debate, small businesses should keep a close eye on their website traffic and Internet-based business inquiries. If sales and marketing activities are down, consider reviewing your SEO practices with an Internet expert.

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