Google seems to be in the process of making one of their boldest changes to date. Google is changing the web page title and meta tag description of certain websites when it displays the results on the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERP’s). For example a website may list the company name in the web page title or the first line of the meta description, but Google will edit this data, and utilize the keyword instead of the company name when it lists the content on the Search Engine Results Page. As an SEO it took me a while to notice this, and in fact it took a client to point it out to me for confirmation. SEO’s tend to focus on keywords and less on brand exposure; we first look to see our clients on page one, then check the listings accuracy.

The information on why Google is doing this is just now starting to surface; we’ve read some of the information, but nothing definitive. At first glance, here is what it looks like. Google is taking a page out of the Facebook playbook and saying, we are about our users and our users only. You did not ask to show up in our search engine, nor do we ask permission to put you in our search engine. We created Google to help users find things, and if we want to manipulate the results, or the message from your website, we will. Google is shifting in a massive way over to keywords and away from brands. Do any search you like and you will see a heavy influence keywords, and in several cases the only way you can determine the brand name is by the URL, I wonder when Google will change that (URL)?

At this point it’s not clear how the new changes are going to affect the rankings. In the case of SearchRankings.Net 95% of our existing client base has increased rankings since the beginning of January. The rankings are increasing but the listings are changing. It’s also unknown if the new display changes are going to affect traffic, if you write your content, and meta tags both for optimization and for conversion, this could affect conversion rates, given that Google is changing the content. SearchRankings.Net will continue to monitor this and many other changes we are starting to see Google implement this year, and that begs another question… Did Google convert to a new platform (Google Caffeine), in order to make the changes we are seeing now?

Here are just a few of the changes we have seen since the start of 2011. Google is now putting a larger focus on local search, regardless of whether you are logged in or not, Google will display physical locations and map results on page 1 in front of national results. In some cases the local search results and map items will take up the entire first page, moving all the rankings to the following page. We have been following reports that Google is penalizing companies who use content farms to build up their link volume. This practice is easy to spot, and if Google has made this change to its algorithm we will see a lot of sites move back in the search results. SearchRankings.Net does not use content farms, or low value links, which is one reason our clients have been improving this year.

The SearchRankings.Net team is heading to Austin TX this month for the South By Southwest Interactive Media show (www.sxsw.com/interactive). We are going to investigate the new changes to search engines while we are there. The times they are a changing, I don’t know if any of us knew Google was going to change them this fast. Stay tuned!

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