Google Subscriber links
There’s a little bit of buzz about today over Googles subscribed links feature. I thought it might be handy to share my robwatts view on it. The view being one that is informed from 3 perspectives. A google user a site owner and an SEO.
I’ll stick to three classifications, good, not so good and tell it like I see it reality good.
From a user perspective it could be a handy thing to stumble across sites that display the ‘subscribe to links’ badge and know that subsequently if I search on a related keyword that the site owner has added to the Google system then provided that I’m logged in to my Google account, I’ll get a trusted result in the SERP to a site I’ve used before, kindly highlighted and formatted to stand out from the page. Saves me having to bookmark lots of sites and refer to things of old. I’ll just find a good site, see their Google badge and hit it. Done, subscribed.
From the perspective of a site owner a thing like this gives me an excellent opportunity to promote whatever it is I do and inject highly targeted keyword links to specific URL’s that for my subscribed user base, are guaranteed to appear in a good position for whatever keywords I choose to target in my TSV text or XML feed. I can get to position 4 for any search I want on any keyword related, provided of course I can win the numbers game (subscribers) and have the content to go with it. I have a potentially huge incentive to get as many people as I possibly can to sign up for this. I can lower both my PPC and SEO costs and save a bucketload of cash if I manage to crack it and hit it spot on.
From the perspective of an SEO/SEM a thing like this is a useful opportunity to demonstrate to clients that I have a broad understanding of the range of complexities and angles required to succeed in the Internet of 2008. If my client happens to have a huge database with some kick ass products too, then the whole process of getting their users to sign up to their subscribed links will of course inform my overall SEO strategy and be a part of any subsequent site rebuild. If you assume that Google is always on the look out for signals that are harder to manipulate, then this really could be just one very big signal indeed.
The not so good
Of course to every good there is a not so good. What I don’t like is this. I have to be logged in to my Google account to experience the benefits of this. Google will be a fabulous position to track my searches, the types of sites I visit and the types of sites i choose to buy from or subscribe to. If I don’t have an account and happen to stumble upon one of these sites pushing this thing, then if i want to participate I have to sign up for an account. I can’t do so anonymously, I have to join the borg collective and sign up to being tracked.
As a site owner I am sort of pushed into a little bit of a dilemma. Easy, apparently cost free traffic, might appear to be a good thing, yet there is a cost attached. I have to install Google code on my site which then gives Google insights to my business and visitors who land on my pages. I also provide Google with potential new account holders and have no guarantees with how they’ll use their actions in the future. If I want those coveted positions then it makes sense that I take steps to build my user base and get those casual searchers back and clicking on those subscription buttons. I have no guarantees that having built up a following via Google that Google will introduce options that’ll require some kind of payment.
A world where SERP results are informed solely on the basis of logged in user actions, of where people subscribed to every site they visited using fully personalised SERPs for practically every vertical would obviously impact upon the traditional SEO model. Link building – forget it. Ranking reports – forget them. Anchor text – scrap that . HTML formatting – forget it.
A site owner could in theory completely and utterly circumvent the need for traditional SEO. A system that allows for site owners themselves to decide on what their XML feeds are relevant for, is potentially huge. The Google back end might even add features and offer tools that suggest relevant keywords for them to target for each feed or text file, it could use such data to inform its algorithm and push out sites that had no such profile, especially in the more competitive niches, which is exactly where things like this will be targeted most.
Of course the reality is that some of the things above will and some will not come to pass. The truth of the matter is that take up of such a thing will probably be very low. Most people will swing merrily along with their existing set of habits and suspicions and will keep on doing things in the way they have.
We need to think about why the search engines are pushing such things and look for some of the reasons behind it. The number one reason is of course money. Sure, they probably do want to ‘improve their users experience’ too yet at the same time they also want to get a little more control and say so over who gets to put what in where and how. By getting site owners into a direct relationship and delivering traffic, they help set up a platform for subsequent monetisation and consolidation of the search marketing pie by taking a bigger cut of spend that is currently going to SEO. By demonstrating that SEO is not too effective, by converting as many people as possible to personalised models they undermine some of the attraction that traditional SEO offers. What good is an SEO ranking report if every bodies results differ based upon their user profile. How can an SEO firm demonstrate the impact of their actions if ultimately there is no sure way of measuring such actions. Why employ an SEO to advise you on markup and keyword density and inbound links and a whole lot of other paraphernalia, when you can simply upload a feed, choose your own keywords to rank for possibly assisted by Google back-end web page optimser tool , advising this that or the other.
From a user perspective. I’ll certainly use this and when logged on certain pc’s I might even subscribe to a site or two, especially if they are related to me or a client or are in some way exceptionally useful.
From a site owner POV, heck why not what’s to lose. I already use Google analytics, I don’t particularly care too much what they do or don’t know about my visitors, it’s really not a concern. It could be a positive it could be a negative. If I have 20,000 visitors per day and no one subscribes does it mean that I have a crappy resource just because a site in a similar vertical with similar visitor numbers gets people signing up to this? Conversely, will my site that has this code and gets the subscribers win out in the SERPs; just because the site of a competitor who kicks my arse in other ways doesn’t?
As an SEO – being the adaptive bunch that we are, I’ll probably see it as a selective opportunity tool. If a site has good content, then I’ll advise it as part of the overall mix. I’ll apprise a client of the pro’s and the cons. I’ll tell them how it could be used potentially. I’ll tell them all about quality scores and quality signals, of Googles aversion to SEO tactics and general dislike and disdain for its ability to detract from their PPC revenues. I’ll tell them and show them like I always have of the best methods for using it to their advantage. That’s what I’m paid to do after all.
Bring it on Googiebaby