A Deep Dive into Google MyAnswers
A few months ago I published here on Moz SEO in the Personalization Age, where I explained why, once and for all, SEOs need to be aware of the personalization of SERPs and the mechanisms by which Google customizes our search results. I also suggested some ways to convert what at first sight is just a complication into a competitive advantage.
This post is the ideal continuation of that one.
Here, however, I won’t dig into SEO theories and patents, but I will try to put order in all of the existing information about the elements that compose MyAnswers, highlighting some clarification that many – wrongly – absent-mindedly forget, and suggesting actions that can mean the difference between winning or not the personalized SERPs.
You can call this post “Guide to MyAnswers” if you want, although I do not pretend to have written a real guide.
Personalized private search
When we speak about personalized search results, it would be more correct to use the term private search results.
It is not just semantics but how Google refers to them, and is also a result of the confrontation with the European Community.
Private is slightly different from Personalized, since it implies that a SERP is personalized only by our web history and only by the direct contacts on Google Plus and Gmail.
Keep in mind this detail, because it will explain a point I will affirm later in the post.
A classic example of Private Search is this:
Private Search consists of two elements:
- Google Now, or our offline activities moved into our own online life;
- Google Plus, or anything that I or people in my Circles share by G+.
Right now you should be quite used to this feature offered by Google also in the desktop search.
Usually we refer to it for things like flight reminders, hotel and restaurant reservations, packages’ deliveries, and for geo-targeted contextual suggestions.
Google Now generally operates in two eco-systems:
- Mobile (and for that reason every example Google offers is mobile);
- Vocal (you can create Google Now reminders with a voice command).
The fact that it is now also present in the classic desktop search is just a sign of the times (and of the shift from desktop search to “everywhere” search, thanks also to the instant synchronization of the Google account information in different devices).
As I wrote in SEO in the Personalization Age, everybody can ask to be integrated into Google Now. Be advised that it is not an immediate inclusion, as a nine-step process is needed to obtain the approval from Google).
The integration is possible using one of these Schema for Gmail:
- RSVP actions for events;
- Review action;
- One-click action;
- Go-to action;
- Flight interactive cards.
This video from the last Google I/O explains well all these options:
Every Schema for Gmail is interesting, but the most immediately useful ones are:
Review action, which offers us the opportunity to ask and let our clients to write reviews of our product, hotel, or service (or simply to evaluate them with the classic starred system) directly from their inbox. As you can see, it can be a big help in obtaining more reviews, as it responds to the old classic “Don’t make me think” principle;
One-click action, which can be especially useful for eCommerce sites. Imagine you have users subscribed to your coupon/offers newsletter. When they will receive the newsletter with the One-click action SaveAction Schema implemented, they will be able to save the coupon in their Google Offers account.
If you want to dig more into the integration with Google Now, you can check out these two great posts:
- How Gmailâ€™s Schema.org Support Changes the Game for Email Marketers;
- Email Schema: 6 Things You Need To Know Plus Some Conspiracy Theory.
I must admit that I still see many SEOs confused about how Google Plus influences Private Search.
To be honest, the fact that Google presents both Google Plus and Knowledge Graph (and sometimes Answers cards) in the same positions, or even mixed (i.e.: Google Plus Profiles enriched with Knowledge Graph information) is not helping to dispell this confusion. This, among other things, reflects something that still not everybody understands: Google Plus is a multi-platform product, and not only a Social Network.
Google Plus directly influences Private Search in three different ways, each one depending on the visibility we give to the message we share on G+:
1. Only You (or “shared privately”)
As you can see, the visibility in SERPs is practically immediate (10 seconds is the time I needed to switch accounts).
Privately shared Google Plus posts can be also images, as Giorgio pointed out to me:
Opportunities in sharing privately
Imagine you did a good job building an authoritative profile on Google Plus, so that you have been circled by influencers.
When you don’t have a close relationship with those influencers and your outreach emails may very well bounce back or be ignored, then sharing a private post with a link to content you think they may may like and share is a great alternative.
Thanks to this sort of inception marketing, the influencers will quite surely find that post in the first page for those keywords you are targeting them for and about which you have created the content you want them to promote.
If you have wisely crafted the post in order to have a catchy tagline (the first words, which will compose the title of the search snippet) and a convincing description with a strong call to action just after, then your post has a strong opportunity for being clicked, discovered, and shared by that influencer.
There are two kinds of limited Google Plus posts in SERPs.
- Posts that are shared with us because we are part of a Circle (not publicly shared), and we have the person/business page sharing it circled too;
- Posts that are posted publicly by people/brands, who are not in the Knowledge Graph but whom we have circled
For instance, Rand is not a node in the Knowledge Graph (yet), so what I see in the right sidebar of the SERPs is his information taken from his Google Plus profile and his latest post there in a limited-labeled box.
Opportunities in limited sharing
Usually people tend to share posts only using the Public option. By doing so, they lose the opportunity to obtain more SERP real estate for branded searches.
A posts is public when a user or a brand shares it with all the Google Plus users. These posts are presented as organic search results, and they can rank as if they were a normal web page and even reach the first positions and remain in the SERPs if they earn links.
They aren’t tagged with Public as it was once, but they present authorship data, and we always see them in the first page if we have circled that user/brand.
Opportunities in sharing publicly
The opportunities are obvious in this case.
The more people who have circled your profile or your business page, the more they will see your publicly shared posts in a outstanding position in the SERPs, including for very competitive head tail keywords.
Follow those simple rules about Google Plus posts’ search snippets, and you will be able to obtain important volumes of organic traffic to your G+ profile and, from there, to your site.
Be aware, though, that Public shares tend to suffer when the Freshness effect decays and, if the post is not reinforced with backlinks, it will tend to slip out of the first page and, ultimately, from the SERPs.
The difference between Search Plus Your World (SPYW) and MyAnswers
This snapshot above is an example of how SPYW was working.
As you can see, Google was declaring how many personalized results were pulled in, enhancing them with the styled person icon, and showing the photo and name of the person who socially shared the content. It even offered us a list of people and pages on Google+ related to the search we did.
Now, with MyAnswers, this is not so anymore:
No indication of how many search snippets are personalizing the SERP. No person icon.
Of note, there is also no sign of the name of the person who socially shared the content if he is not in our Circles. The SERP, then, is personalized just with those Google Plus posts that were shared by people we have in our Circles.
Finally, there’s no sign of “Suggested people and pages” in the right column.
These differences show one extremely important difference between SPYW and MyAnswers:
In SPYW, if we shared something with a friend, it was seen in a preferred position in SERPs by his friends, as well. In MyAnswers it is not.
Giorgio and I did a very simple experiment, with me sharing a post with him and “Extended Circles.” The result was that Giorgio could see my post in a SERP when logged in with his personal account, but not when logged in with a test G+ profile that didn’t have me circled but did have his personal account circled.
What does this mean? That sharing something with “Extended Circles,” as Google itself explains in a somewhat involute way, offers an opportunity to make the post visible to un-circled profiles only in Google Plus, but not in SERPs.
As I was saying in the very beginning of this post, this is why we should speak of Private Search and not of Personalized Search.
And, as we will see, there’s just one way to show something shared on Plus to friends of friends: the Google +Post Ads.
The MyAnswers catalogue
The version of the catalogue I outline here must be considered just a snapshot in time of the actual situation. As Dr. Pete taught us with his #MozCast updates, Google is continuously experimenting with new formats and layouts.
MyAnswers elements are present in the SERPs both in the right-hand column and in the main body of the SERPs.
On the right we can find:
Personal profiles of users we have circled
Personal Gmail contact information
This is “Only You” information pushed into the SERP from our Gmail, and Google shows it if the contact we have in Gmail doesn’t have a Google Plus profile. Note that if he/she has a Google Plus profile, this one with an “Add to circles” button will be shown instead:
If the brand is not a node in the Knowledge Graph, the business page will be shown only if we have circled it.
If we haven’t, that space on the right will be empty:
Please note that this particular example is quite strange, because Moz is present with a page in Wikipedia, so the absence of a Moz Knowledge Graph box, or of Knowledge Graph information in the Google Plus business box seems quite odd and is something we should investigate further.
Google Plus local pages
There are three cases, and in all of them the box is visible whether or not you’re signed in. The biggest difference is that we won’t see whether our circled friends have reviewed a local business if we are signed out.
1) A non-verified G+ local page, as in the case of the Osteria Satyricon in Bolonia (click and you will see how the “verified business” icon is absent).
2) A verified but not circled page, as in the case of the restaurant of a friend of mine in Valencia:
3) A verified and circled page:
Another possibility: A Knowledge Graph and Google Plus page/business page:
The box, as can be easily seen, is a composition of Knowledge Graph information (extract from Wikipedia and “People also search for”) and Google Plus (number of followers and recent posts).
This box is also visible if you’re not logged in.
Knowledge Graph, Google Plus, and Google Now
Substantially similar to the previous case, but with the “Keep me updated” button, which functions to push posts by the followed profile in our Google Now Cards.
It seems it is only shown if the person is a node in the Knowledge Graph and it is not available for Business Pages (at least I wasn’t able to find any).
Google Plus Hashtags Search
Since last September it has been possible to search for hashtags in Google.
That means that if you tag a post on Plus with a hashtag, your content may have the opportunity to be shown in Google searches to people who have not circled you and are not signed in.
It would be worth an independent analysis of how Google chooses which public posts to show for a given hashtag, but what it is quite clear is that freshness is an important factor, as the posts shown tend to be the ones most recently shared.
Also pay attention to the hashtags you decide to use, as it seems that the hashtag must have at least a minimum of usage in order to be shown in Google search. For instance, I tried to search #MozCast and this was the result:
The only way to be always visible with a box in the right-hand column of the SERPs when people are not logged in and/or have not circled us is being present in the Knowledge Graph and having a Profile/Business Page on Plus, or having a verified Google Plus Local Page.
In the first case:
- If we already are a node in the Knowledge Graph, then we must have an active page on Google Plus. There are tons of Brands that doesn’t know this and are missing a wonderful opportunity to lend visibility to their content.
- If we are not present in the Knowledge Graph but have an active Google Plus profile/business page, we can try to earn/force inclusion in the sources that the Knowledge Graph uses: Wikipedia and Freebase.
If you have a Google Plus Local Page, then you simply should start posting updates.
In the main body of a SERP we can find:
Shared Google Plus posts
As I mentioned previously, the Google Plus posts are visible both to people who are signed in and to those who are signed out if the posts are public, but they only easily rank in a top position for head-tail keywords for people who have circled us.
And, keep in mind that freshness has a key role.
URLs shared on Google Plus
If someone we have circled shares a URL in Google Plus, the web document shared will be shown on the first page in our private searches even if it isn’t in a neutral search or in a more prominent position that actually is ranking:
Note that only one person needs to share the URL, which obviously means that if we were able to earn followers on Google Plus, the simple act of sharing the URL with them will make that page stand out in their SERPs, even for very competitive keywords.
URLs that have earned +1s
If someone we have circled +1s a web document, we will see that same page excel in the SERPs for all the keywords that page may rank for:
Google Plus local reviews
This represents a great opportunity for local businesses. If a business has been circled by an influencer, it should have to try being reviewed by him on Google Plus Local (Remember: You can do it using the Schema for Gmail, too).
If he agrees, all his followers will see your search snippet enhanced by his annotation, and if that is 4 or 5 stars…
We should not forget that Google Plus and private search are also influencing our YouTube experience when signed in.
If we click on the Social link in the left menu, we will see all the YouTube videos people we have circled have shared on Google Plus:
Also remember that if someone we have circled not only shares a YouTube video but also comments about it on Google Plus, then we will see his comment in the YouTube page of that video too. Just check the latest Matt Cutts video about Paid Links, and you will see a good example of this. Note, though, that that same Matt Cutts video doesn’t show any “Google Plus activity” in the SERPs.
Last December Google launched the Beta of +Post Ads.
+Post Ads may be defined as the Google version of the old (and now dismissed) Facebook Promoted Posts.
For Google they also are:
- A way of selling ads on Plus without publishing them on Plus;
- A brilliant idea, because it is a way to bring more people into Google Plus but making them pay to advertise.
The +Post Ads are included in the Google GDN, therefore we can easily target the right audience and do really targeted inbound marketing with practically every kind of content we can create on Google Plus:
- Hangouts on air (pre, during, and post-HOA)
Users can interact with the +Post Ad directly in the site where it is published without the need to visit our Google Plus page. Obviously, they need to have a Google Profile.
From an SEO point of view, +Post Ads are a great opportunity. In fact, the more people who share and +1 the ad (and comment on it if it is a video), the more all the people in their Circles will start seeing our post standing out in SERPs (and YouTube) even for the most competitive keywords.
Private Search, with its combination of Google Now and Social Search (aka: Google Plus) represent a big percentage of the SERPs users see, and its majority in case of mobile search users on Android devices.
Google Plus, then, due to its cross-product platform nature, influences the search experience also of the users not using it as a Social Network.
For these reasons we must understand how Private Search works, recognize its elements in the SERPs and take advantage of the opportunities it offers to us..
Maybe it’s time to start optimizing our Google Plus content, don’t you think?