Back to the Future. SEO, Email Marketing & Personalized SERPs

Back to the Future. SEO, Email Marketing & Personalized SERPs

15th November 2012

Almost one month ago I received in my inbox an email from Google related to the Gmail Search Field Trial. This is a Google experiment presenting results from Gmail and Google Drive when you do a search in the Google search engine.

Google started the beta phase of at the end of August, with this update adding new features, like presenting results from your calendar and from your docs in Drive.

Gmail, GCalendar and Drive documents in SERPs

Gmail Field Trial

Personally I consider it a great feature, because – I can tell you – it is helping me a lot in (re) discovering mails from Google Groups I am part of and where great discussion about SEO and Web Marketing topics are privately held, or emails were I or some friend of mine share tips of great value or links to valuable content, or documents as PDFs.

Also, I am not so paranoid to think that Google is reading all my emails in order to create a persona around my tastes, the words I use, and the links I share via mail…

I would be more concerned about the use of this personalization feature Gmail in Search can offer to smart businesses.

But let’s do a small flashback first.

Do you remember the 10 blue links era? As it always happens to memories, people who remember something tend to do it in a nostalgically positive way. It’s psychology 101: memories are stored in the subconscious and re-emerge if something causes them to return on the surface of our own memory. For instance a sound, or bad memories are filtered out to maintain our own mental sanity.

So, It is common to hear SEOs saying that those 10 blue solitary links were the searcher’s Paradise. Clean, precise, fitting the intent of the search done…

Usually that is in most of the case nostalgic nonsense. SERPs were spammed as they are today, probably even more. Horrible ‘only-for-money’ sites were ranking quite easily with good on page SEO and a boost of directories links, and if the domain was an EMD, bless you God! Hallelujah  Don’t you believe me? Believe me… we all had out BH moments when we were younger.

There weren’t verticals, and you had to search for images in Google Images (much worse than now, considering that now they are not that wonderful), Google Video, Google News… If we were looking for a restaurant, we had to rely mostly on local directories or we needed to open the Yellow Pages’ paper brick. And so on.

Then Universal Search came, and with it a better personalization of search, based on your web search history and your geo-localization., but some SEOs started to complain.

Then came the Social Media layer in the personalization, which now see in SPYW its most recent expression.

Then Rich Snippets, Authorship, Knowledge Graph box

Finally Gmail/Drive/Calendar in Search, still in an experimental phase, will be included in search results.

Whoa! Google, what was an example of minimalistic design, now seems as a “horror vacui” syndrome affecting it.

What does that mean for us in the Search Marketing industry?

Mail Box in SERPs

First of all it means that we must definitely forget “neutral” SERPs. All result pages are and will be personalized, therefore – when we are planning our SEO strategy – we must consider personalization an advantage and not a obstacle.

That is why the importance of the synergy with Social Media (and the importance of Google Plus), the increasingly imperative of implementing Schema, the evolution of SEO into Optimization for SEO’s Verticals (images, video, news…) and, in a future to come, a revamped relation between SEO and Email Marketing.

It is true that the actual experimental phase of the Gmail Search Field Trial is not opened to Google Apps account and it is not considering any email buy Gmail, we can see the great SEO potential of this new feature.

In fact, if we have an important email list of customers to whom we send our newsletters on a regular basis, if those emails may be made by Google in the SERPs, then it will be important that the SEO optimization of newsletters in order to make them ranking in the “mail box “in search results.

Somehow, this “collaboration” between SEO and Email Marketing was something preached also in the past, when it was common to consider the “newsletters’ archive” in the site a good practice for long tail domination. But it is not the same thing, and the “Mail box” in personalized results is surely more powerful, especially in that field of web marketing, so hype nowadays, which is know as growth hacking (and that we know also as nurturing).

What can be the ranking factor of this new potential vertical?

Bill Slawski, as always, tried to answer to this question in this post: GMail Rank and the Importance of Good Subject Lines

In that post, which did not had the deserved attention, Bill tells us how Google is probably using the Mailrank patent in order to solve this, and these are signals that Google has admitted they are using (quoting from the Bill’s post):

  • Who you email: If you email Bob a lot, it’s likely that messages from Bob are important.
  • Which messages you open: Messages you open are likely to be more important than those you skip over.
  • What keywords spark your interest: If you always read messages about soccer, a new message that contains those same soccer words is more likely to be important.
  • Which messages you reply to: If you always reply to messages from your mom, messages she sends are likely to be important.
  • Your recent use of stars, archive and delete: Messages you star are probably more important than messages you archive without opening.

Especially important, then, should be the subject line, which will have a weight similar to the Title tag in web pages – as you can see the old relationships between SEO and Email Marketing are going to backfire.

But, there is something strategically important this potential new opportunity is telling us: that if we want to have success in our SEO strategy, more and more we must work synergically with the Content creators.

In fact if we want to have our newsletter positively causing all those actions by the users, than we will need to explain how email marketing optimization is something that not only will have a direct effect in its own classic KPIs (open rate, click rate…), but also for the generation of organic traffic from Search.

It means that what it is mostly a very pushy and almost spammy activity for so many businesses, must be re-thought and considered an inbound discipline and not an outbound one.

The Moz Top 10 SEOmozA good example of this is how SEOmoz is conducting its email marketing strategy:

  • First with the its monthly newsletter, which is strongly focused to the Pro members presenting all the news related to all the features a Pro SEOmoz member can use, not just about the tools;
  • Second, and especially, with its “The Moz Top Ten”. This newsletter is about everything but SEOmoz.

It is a curated list of the best posts about SEO and Web Marketing published the prior 15 days. Not a commercial newsletter, but a content marketing action, which makes that 219,320 subscribers have a constant exposure to the SEOmoz brand!

This is also a newsletter, which can lead to extremely positive SEO effects, as every blogger cited in the newsletter – because of the great traffic the link in the Moz Top 10 cause (we proved it too here in State of Search) – will probably have a positive attitude toward SEOmoz, link to it, cite it in its Social Profiles and, possibly, create collaborations with Moz.

Email marketing is a way to create and nurture your community, to help create your figure as thoughtful leader and increase the positive consideration of your Brand… and – in the future – to rank better in the Mail Box in SERPs.

Cool, isn’t it? So, why many of us don’t do it?

Personalization is not as bad as many of us still think. No. Instead, it can be our most powerful resource; we have just to learn how to take advantage of it.


Written By
Gianluca Fiorelli is an SEO and Web Marketing Strategist, who operates in the Italian, Spanish and English speaking countries market. He also works regularly as independent consultant with bigger international SEO agencies.
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