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Big Orange Slide

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Out with the Old Spice in with the New?

February 5, 2014 by Big Orange Slide

illustration by Rodrigo Diaz Mercado (Old spice-AXE)

A joint submission by Ben Soja & Coby Savage

Only a few weeks into the New Year and there’s already a strange scent coming from the deodorant aisle at your local drugstore. That scent seems to be coming from both Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice and Unilever’s Axe, who have reignited their rivalry within the consistently growing male deodorant market. The two industry giants have been in a battle over market share for the better part of a decade and both companies have used their wealth of financial resources to launch comprehensive marketing campaigns in 2014. Historically, Old Spice and Axe have invested heavily in their marketing departments, resulting in ads that are strong, powerful, humorous and sometimes even controversial. Let’s dissect these two leading companies’ brand new marketing campaigns to determine who seems primed for success in 2014.

Axe – “Make Love. Not War.” Analysis

When I think of Axe body spray, I’m reminded of grade nine – the first time I doused my pubescent boy-chest with the product. ‘Why not?’ I thought, as it had become relatively popular among some of the other boys at school; we were all hoping we’d get the same attention from the opposite sex as shown in the commercials. Sadly, it did not have the same effect. Not a single girl climbed over her desk to get to me nor was there the slightest threat of being mauled by females between classes. Ultimately, I was left disappointed and reeking of a ‘sucker’. Foiled by another ad campaign, I shook my fist at the Ad World.

Over the years, Axe has taken their fair share of criticism due to the heavy sexual content in their ad campaigns. At times, they’ve been accused of objectifying and displaying a lack of respect towards women. I’ll admit that I found a few of their ads entertaining and sometimes humorous when I was younger, but when I grew up I became disinterested in the brand, due partly to the fact that their communications seemed childish and immature. Since then, Axe ad content has stayed relatively the same, and I’m an Old Spice man now.

It’s time for Axe to change their recipe – something more than the low-hanging fruit of attractive women all over male Axe users, or predictable sexual innuendos. If you’re still reading this, you’re probably wondering, “What you gettin’ at, Ben”. Well, I’ll tell you.

The most recent ad campaign by Axe is a step in the right direction and a step into adulthood for them. High production value, thoughtful message, and visually pleasing. It’s called ‘Make Love. Not War.’ a message everyone can get behind. I’ll spare you the summary as you can just as easily see the extended spot for yourself.

You probably wouldn’t have guessed it was Axe if I hadn’t told you, right? With a competitor such as Old Spice and their advertising success in the past few years, Axe had to step up their game. And that they have.

This is the first time the brand has been presented using a serious tone and the commercial focuses on the topic of war and oppressive regimes. Throughout the spot, there are scenes alluding to events from Vietnam, North Korea, the Middle East and more. Historically, the brand has positioned itself for young guys trying to impress women, but this ad shows that Axe is taking a more balanced approach when appealing to the sexes.

The ad is scheduled to launch officially at this year’s Super Bowl and is already getting some serious traction on social media. Not only that, Axe has aligned themselves with a charitable organization called “Peace One Day” and included them on several global marketing initiatives. A win for Axe for the publicity/traction they’ve created, a win for the charity organization for getting more exposure, and a win for the recipients from the charity efforts. Now all that needs to be determined is if it’s a sales win for Axe as well. Time will tell.

Either way, I’m glad Axe has changed it’s approach and I might start seeing them as more than a grade 9 boys purchasing mistake.

Old Spice – “Mom Song” Analysis

When I was entering my teen years, Old Spice was considered a deodorant that my grandfather would have used. It was certainly not a desirable scent for a 13-year-old boy hoping to convince girls that he was mature beyond his years. Much like Ben, I was more intrigued by the sex appeal that surrounded Axe, and would frequently shower myself in half a bottle of “Kilo” after gym class. Also like Ben, my newfound manly scent did not attract the opposite sex as had been advertised. In fact, my parents would frequently comment that I smelled toxic and that my presence was burning their nostrils.

After years of offending everyone around me by giving off an unbearably strong odour, I decided it was time for a change. Axe was old news and I wanted a scent that distinguished me from every other teenage boy who smelt like he had spent a weekend on Jersey Shore. I made a life-changing decision and switched to Old Spice, and have been a loyal consumer ever since.

Over the past four years, Old Spice has done a fantastic job engaging customers with their wildly successful “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, which launched in 2010. Overnight, the brand turned from “your grandfather’s scent” to “how to smell like a man” with barely any change to the product. Welcome to advertising. However, all campaigns have a shelf life, and it was time for a new direction.

Old Spice definitely needed to generate some excitement around their brand, but is this the answer? In my opinion, Old Spice dropped the ball on this one. The commercial, which premiered during the NFL playoffs, is creepy, weird and doesn’t have the same charm that Isaiah Mustafa had when he was riding on a horse.

The video is full of special effects and imposes images of mothers in strange places during romantic encounters between their sons and young women. One of the mothers morphs from a high school janitor, another pops up out of the sand on the beach, and a third appears from under a sofa cushion, then slides along the floor and up onto a couch. To me, all of this crosses the boundary from funny and engaging to weird and creepy. Even the new slogan, “Smellcome to Manhood” seems like they’re trying to target those 13-year-old boys dousing themselves (and everyone around them) in a can of Old Spice and it just doesn’t resonate with the young adult demographic.

In my opinion, the ads Old Spice has released since the 2010 “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign have been increasingly loud, obnoxious and bizarre. Today, they’ve entered the territory of creepy and weird.

Maybe I’m being too hard on Old Spice because I expect so much from the brand. Or maybe this new direction just doesn’t appeal to an adult audience. Regardless, it seems like Old Spice has had it’s time on top and Axe is making its move to dominate the adult demographic more effectively.

The men’s deodorant industry appears primed for a shift in market dominance. Axe seems to have matured and is ready to solidify the position of industry leader, whereas Old Spice may have tried too hard to recreate the success of their “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign. In an era where the young adult generation is increasingly concerned about the future and are more socially conscious than ever, it is our opinion that Axe has struck the right balance of promoting peace without trivializing the events referenced in the commercial, while simultaneously increasing perception of the brand.

In 2010, the New York Times reported that Axe had done a better job at enticing the youth market, owning 37% of the market share of spray deodorant vs. only 10% for Old Spice. Conversely, Old Spice doubled Axe’s share of the deodorant and body wash market. But four years later, has Axe done enough to influence the sales of their entire product line, and gain ground in the stick deodorant and body wash market? Will Old Spice’s polarizing new direction be enough to turn away loyal consumers? 2014 will certainly be an interesting year to follow these two brands.

What do you think? Has the Axe ad tastefully blended war with passion? Has Old Spice missed the mark with their new direction? We want to hear from you!

Favourite Recipes

January 9, 2014 by Big Orange Slide

illustration by Rodrigo Diaz Mercado (favourite recipies)[1][1] copy

A contribution by Ian Budge of Flash Reproductions, one of our key print suppliers.

A recipe is often something mysterious – a family tradition, a guarded secret. Many times it is a gateway to acceptance, or fame, or fortune. Friendships have been dissolved over recipes. Long-running family feuds have erupted and I’m guessing lives may have been lost. Now that’s weird; imagine killing someone because they were keeping a recipe secret? Believe me I’m following those “Twix” brothers with careful interest – all may not be well in the chocolate cookie business.

Here’s the thing: a recipe is nothing more than a bunch of common elements blended together to yield an uncommon product or experience. The science is blending the appropriate ingredients in appropriate amounts. The magic is choosing the proper ingredients. For the most part, when talking about recipes, we’re referring to food. But the principle applies to almost anything we do.

As a printer, I recognize that there are many people who can get their hands on good equipment and with a little luck can actually produce a good product. The difference between the average printer and the gourmet printer is not just equipment, or knowledge, or training, or skill – it’s who has the best recipe; and even more than that, it’s who has a more sophisticated palate. I’ll admit I’m not much of a cook. Sure, I can measure stuff and put together something edible after a quick Google search and a trip to Fortinos. But that’s being a technician – there’s no magic. And most so-called professional printers have “apple P” mentalities. “The file supplied must be good to go, so let’s just print the sucker”. This attitude perpetuates mediocrity. A fast food burger may be 100% beef, but clearly it’s not the same as a porterhouse steak from Ruth’s Chris.

When I began studying print in university almost 35 years ago, we called it graphic arts – and mostly we hated the term because all our misinformed friends assumed we were somehow involved in making cartoons or hideous machinery warning labels.

print

It’s good that hilarious often accompanies hideous! The truth is, there is a lot more artistry in printing than we allow ourselves credit for. Print craft artistry and getting the recipe right are the main reasons that some print jobs look amazing and others, crappy.

There has been a tremendously dark cloud hanging over the printing trade for the better part of the last 5 years. A recent RGD event in Toronto that was attended by some of the brightest and most talented graphic designers in the country had an underlying theme: “Print is not dead – it’s on life support”. I’m not sure if that was supposed to be encouraging? Let me state without hesitation that print is not dead! In fact, the generation born into the social media world has repeatedly shown a greater appreciation for the printed page than the preceding generation, which grew up with one foot in both worlds. Fine printing is evolving into one of those near-luxury items that younger generations crave, like vinyl records or hand-made leather goods.

Print is not on life support. Print has changed from being a cumbersome commodity to something more enduring and precious. An image on your screen lasts for a few seconds – but that printed book, or brochure or even business card – well, that lasts forever. Of course, I’m one of those geeks who prints something beautiful and then walks around with it in his hand showing to it to anyone who cares to look. There is something remarkable about beautiful materials wrought into excellent products by skilful craftsmen – I think we all agree with Ben Franklin who quipped, “The bitterness of poor quality endures long after the sweetness of low price has been forgotten.”

Print is nowhere near dead. Johannes Gutenberg would be delighted to see designers carefully selecting a single typeface from among the millions at their disposal, and carefully kerning and tracking the crap out of it until it looks just right. He would be thrilled to see colours lovingly plucked from the endlessly diverse Pantone rainbow. His heart would palpitate if he could feel the quality and texture of the chosen substrate. Designers work hard at getting their recipe just right and so too does a carefully selected printer. So, let’s make 2014 a print revival year and kick up the quality a notch or two!

…And a Social New Year

December 31, 2013 by Eric Vieira

Print

Evolution of the Community Manager as we know it:

The profile of a community manager will evolve. Ad agencies have traditionally structured their community management teams to focus on moderating the conversation and addressing emergency situations. We expect the responsibilities to shift client side to alleviate the stresses of a ‘middle man’ in the time sensitive environment of social, where their teams will have immediate access to appropriate resources.

The true power and value of a social team is the creation of consumable strategic content. The social team structure will be founded on four core pillars – Content Creation, Content Strategy, Content Analysis and Content Amplification – a model truly founded in the need to be seen. These pillars will deepen the connection with the consumer, triggering a stronger client confidence in content, and enabling our team to think bigger. We have begun to make internal adjustments to suit our updated positioning through the promotion of two truly deserving Social Content Strategists who have never shied from pushing the boundaries of creativity: Owen Garscadden, Director, Connections Strategy and Patrick Tomasso, Associate Director, Creative Content.

At Grip, we relate this back to a 4 leaf clover analogy where each pillar presents a leaf that empowers us with the ability to ‘manufacture luck’ – this is the notion that luck doesn’t exist, it’s simply opportunity meets preparation.

Is “buying in social” really about buying reach?

Social media buying will shift from the media company to the agency. The power of social buying may be better utilized if it is in the hands of the social content strategist for social amplification. A question to pose to the industry is whether or not our current processes are structured properly to support this real time bidding, constant optimization and socially prominent forms of content amplification. Algorithms can get us so far, but in the same way social requires a human interaction, social amplification demands the attention of a specialist. Social strategists will need to know this skill set to ensure they’re employable in the very near future. Social amplification will not become a revenue generator for agencies, but is rather a confirmation of content consumption.

The Sleeping Giant Awakes!

Google+… If I had one social community to hang my hat on (for brand building) in the next 12 months, it would be Google+. Their platform integration into everything they do makes it an absolute powerhouse. From Google’s algorithm instantly indexing Google+ content, giving it greater value within search results, to the importance of it influencing SEO/SCO strategies, and +Brand pages showing up in the significant right-hand column real estate, Google+ will easily win the ROI value comparison. Google’s recent introduction of “+Post ads” is a brilliant depiction of the next web and the evolution of how we communicate as advertisers. Our content strategies are more than just “posts” when they can be amplified around the web. When you think of the network Google has available to promote your richest content, simply putting ad dollars to promote within Facebook or Twitter seems too limiting. With Google, your content now has an opportunity to gain contextual relevance within a user’s web behaviour. Imagine Honda Canada posts a question to its loyal customers, asking, “What’s your favourite Honda – tell us why?”, then promoting this post within an Auto website to potential car purchasers. That’s when social content delivers true utility – while influencing consideration and, ideally, purchase intent. This simple approach also keeps the community un-cluttered with brand messaging that algorithmically doesn’t deserve to be shown to you. That’s huge.

What does content look like in 2014?

Another significant change to what “social content” is was highlighted with Google’s recent algorithm update, Hummingbird (great article). A significant shift to conversational search results from keyword search results is now affecting 90% of all searches. This notion that your web content’s keyword strategies no longer take precedence in the same way they once did changes the game. Google has placed significant value on content relevance (are you providing utility?) and authority (being recognized by your peers) within its search results. In true evolution, they are recognizing that social doesn’t need to stay on platforms, it is now contextually relevant to web browsing “wants”. You can say that Google is essentially humanizing itself. This isn’t a new thought by any means – content is exactly what it has always been. People still need value and utility from content and there needs to be an idea behind it, however the importance of what content is has grown immensely. The role of social has evolved. It is no longer about your content living within its given platform, but rather how it can support a search result or simply live on the web. How can my content be considered relevant when someone is contextually in the realm of considering my category/product/service (ZMOT)? To think that Google is now indexing TripAdvisor and Yelp as “social content” suggests a significant shift into how our brands need to think when producing “social content”.

The Season of Giving

December 12, 2013 by Chelsea Thompson-O'Brien

Chelsea's article

‘Work hard, play harder’, the phrase often used to describe our industry’s lifestyle, rings even truer at this time of year. With tighter timelines come office treats, perks and wild parties. The holidays mean the classic ‘Type A’ personality and the casual ‘bro’ can come together to throw back some eggnog and enjoy the generous agency gifts before heading home to enjoy some overdue family time.

Hectic schedules can often leave us forgetting how truly lucky we are to work in such a creative, free-thinking environment that brings together individuals from a variety of backgrounds. Our careers have allowed us the necessities, some indulgence and a reliable support system.

To return my appreciation for these luxuries, I’ve had the honour of volunteering with an organization called Nellie’s. They give women leaving situations of violence, poverty and homelessness a place to find comfort, recount tragic stories and share triumphs with their peers. They help ensure these women regain their independence and stay far away from abuse, offering access to services like medical, immigration, employment, housing and education, both during and after their stays. They empower women to establish a better future for themselves and their families.

Grip has decided to support this incredible organization by hosting the second annual Secret Santa Shuffle. The concept is similar to most gift exchanges, only with a unique twist: draw a name, purchase a gift as if the recipient was a five-year-old, exchange the gifts and then donate them to the families at Nellie’s.

So, if you’re a Grip employee, expect a visit from one of my fellow ‘elves’ or myself shortly. If you’re not a Grip employee, you are still encouraged to offer your support, because Nellie’s currently has a ghost sponsor who is willing to match every donation.

I’ll end on a positive, necessary cliché: every little bit counts.

The Orange Juicer

December 9, 2013 by Big Orange Slide

The 2014 Orange Juicer Apprenticeship Program is just around the corner. Take a look…

infographic 3 copy, dec 9[1]

So, let’s get juicing. Send us your most off-the-wall juicing techniques using #OrangeJuicer, and we’ll make them a reality at GripOrangeJuicer.com.

Need a little inspiration?

Check out the first Juicer entries now.

Quality Assurance, meet Obamacare

December 2, 2013 by Helen Garcia

Obama health care website V2

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) website debacle. The problem is the website that’s supposed to allow millions of Americans to enrol so they can choose and purchase insurance plans doesn’t work properly.
In the last few weeks, congressional post-mortem hearings have been held with all stakeholders in the website, including all the web development contractors (CGI Federal, QSSI, Oracle, et al.) and key government bodies like the Department of Health & Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The result? A whole lot of finger-pointing and excuses. No one is taking any responsibility for this major “fail”. Everyone is blaming one another.

President Obama initially said, three days after the rollout, that the website got “overwhelmed by the volume” and he promised a “tech surge” to fix the issue. Although this is a really great excuse, (one that some of us in the tech world have used before), it’s not exactly true. Experienced technical teams should have foreseen such an incredibly high volume of users and should have taken measures to handle such a volume.

Yes, millions of people hit the site at virtually the same time and caused a crash, as the site was overburdened with verifying each user’s insurance eligibility.

Yes, the site couldn’t handle the response of millions of Americans registering.

Yes, the site was excruciatingly slow, and Americans, who were eager to enrol, either gave up or were kicked out of the system.

The real issue, however, seems to boil down to one major deficiency: Quality assurance testing.

CGI Federal and other development contractors claim overall end-to-end testing was the responsibility of an agency within the Department of Health & Human Services. Furthermore, CGI Federal informed their client that more time was needed to work out the major issues with the site. But the Obama administration, fearing political blowback, refused to delay the launch of the website despite the warnings from CGI Federal. Failure to meet the October 1 launch date was said to be “not an option.”

This is where everything seemed to fall apart.

Anyone who has been a part of the development of a website (or any digital project for that matter) knows that the most critical and important stage is the quality assurance testing phase. Before any website goes “live,” it must go through rigorous testing, iterative revisions and re-testing in order to ensure a positive user experience and a fully functional end result. If it doesn’t work, you’re likely to lose your audience… And then, what was the point in the first place?

There are several phases of quality assurance testing that must happen before anything is made visible to the public. Quality assurance analysts conduct several forms of testing including functional testing (does it work?), usability testing (does it work and make sense to the user?), platform testing (will it work on Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.), regression testing (after developers fix a problem, does it work now?), and much, much more. Testing takes time and resources, but it’s so integral to a successful launch.

In the case of the Obamacare website, we can assume that with the launch date fast approaching, corners were being cut and timelines were being shaved. Agreeing to have the client conduct quality assurance testing is definitely not a best practice, especially when that client is paying more than $500 million for a foolproof solution. Did a full quality assurance test actually happen or did the client just review the front-end/visual part of the site without actually testing the functional areas? It’s hard to understand why any of the parties in this debacle didn’t take ownership of testing the most important and controversial website in American history.

So what can we, as a digital agency, learn from all this?

Test your work. Period. Make room in your timeline for a full quality assurance review. If the timeline is tight, try to revise your scope instead of shaving off valuable testing time in order to meet deadlines. Never, ever expect your client to test the final product properly unless they have a trained quality assurance analyst on their team and you have the ability to work side by side with that analyst. Get a test plan created by a qualified quality assurance analyst and follow that plan. Make time for testing!

For the Love of Brevity

November 28, 2013 by Julia Hart

Once, during a high school classroom discussion, my English teacher shot out of his chair in a vigorous fit of inspiration and bellowed one simple sentence that forever ignited a light bulb above my head: “Omit! Needless! Words!”
 
Omit needless words. For the sake of simplicity, efficiency and beauty, omit needless words.
 
So why don’t we?
 
In an industry laden with sharp tongues and tight deadlines, you’d think we’d be masters of verbal efficiency. Yet we contribute to countless meetings that spill hours beyond their time slots. We create campaigns so verbally and conceptually intricate that we sometimes end up communicating little value to consumers. We pen long-winded decks that propagate fluffy language. And then we repeat.
 
Smart, meaningful communication is concise. Just as a piece of art should contain no unnecessary lines, or a machine no unnecessary parts, the language of advertising should omit all that is unnecessary too (thanks for the inspiration, Strunk.) We’re in the business of selling ideas, and if we can create great ones, our work should speak for itself.
 
We’ve all heard the phrase that talk is cheap. And most of it is. But smart talk is valuable, and guess what? It takes up much less of our time. And with that in mind, it’s my goal to omit my own needless words and face each day with smart, concise talk. Who’s with me?

Grip + Apartment Therapy

November 25, 2013 by admin

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Earlier this month, Grip’s “Creative Playground” of a workspace was lucky enough to be featured on Apartment Therapy. We were thrilled by the opportunity to share the philosophy and process behind transforming Grip into what it is today, and thought we’d share our favourite excerpt and photos from our feature right here on the blog.
 
Props to Apartment Therapy, Rich Pryce-Jones and Justice Darragh for capturing our personality perfectly! For the full article, click here.
 
Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Industrial Chic.

Inspiration: Somewhere between the Coliseum, a children’s playground, a mechanics service bay, and a nightclub.

Favorite Element: The big orange slide.

Biggest Challenge: There were several. Probably the biggest hurdle was cutting the holes in the top floor to create the 3-storey atrium. That, and convincing my CFO that we should cut holes in the floor to create a 3-storey atrium.

What Friends Say: Can I try out the slide?

Biggest Embarrassment: When clients try out the slide.

Proudest DIY: Not really DIY, but Kardinal Offishal shot a music video here last year.

Biggest Indulgence: Probably the slide, and the fire pole. And the 9000 square foot rejuvenation spa and Brazilian waxing emporium. Okay, I was kidding about that last part.

Best Advice: Hire a great designer that collaborates with you. Show them what you like, but give them a blank canvas and keep an open mind. We had a very tight budget, so we tried to use inexpensive materials in a creative way.

Dream Sources: Inspired by the work we do, we tried to make elements of our space represent some of our clients. The dining booths were inspired by our YUM! Client (KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell). The silver boardroom (which we call the “Beer Fridge”) was a nod to Labatt, our beer client, and the large black circular reception desk represents an oversized tire, for our Honda/Acura client. At least that’s what we tell them all. Hopefully it makes them feel a little guilty if they decide to fire us.
 
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David Bowie is…

November 22, 2013 by Lana Pawziuk

The David Bowie is exhibit, on now at the AGO until November 27th, has drawn a crowd of spectators that spans the generations. The multi-media trip, covering five decades of Bowie’s career, explores what influenced him early-on, as well as his own influence on culture.

Set to audio clips from interviews and musical tracks, the exhibit is a blend of cultural and pop history, photography, costume design, videos and art. (Check out this gem from a 1979 appearance on Saturday Night Live).

It also includes 300 objects from Bowie’s personal archive and a unique installation of Bowie’s 100 must-read books. The exhibit’s end features contemporary artist Paul Robertson’s Periodic Table of Bowie which truly captures the depth of Bowie’s influences and nods to Bowie, the chameleon.

The exhibit shows that David Bowie is many things: musician, illustrator (Bowie started his career in advertising), experimenter, artist, actor, and inventor.

Over the years, Bowie has used his talent to transform himself into different characters – often setting the stage for things to come. One of the earlier examples is when Bowie brought the androgynous Ziggy Stardust to life in 1972. More recently, after a long design process, Bowie chose to alter his Heroes album cover to be the cover for The Next Day album. While it appears like a quick and simple design decision, it was much more than that.

After five decades of entertainment, Bowie is still going strong. He’s a true multi-disciplinary artist and an important icon and definer of pop culture. The David Bowie is exhibit brings Bowie in all his myriad forms to life. See it while you still can, – only a few days left at the AGO!

The SEO Paradigm Shift

November 19, 2013 by richardbramer

Google’s recent move to remove all organic keyword data from all analytics reports has certainly garnered some attention. Countless posts have been written to highlight, debate, scorn and in some cases dismiss this final step in a long drawn-out process of removing keyword-specific referral metrics from a website’s data pool. Many search engine optimization (SEO) analysts and digital marketers panicked, dreading the inevitable client explanation for loss of data, as well as the impact on their capability to optimize and increase conversion through rich, organic search traffic. Solutions and workarounds were put forth, none of which were 100% accurate, but all of which combined to salvage a solid SEO metric and reporting amalgamation moving forward.

What hasn’t been given sufficient attention is how Google’s move affects the goal of SEO, and what this move means in the overall direction of search results, and where achieving top rankings in search results is headed. When viewing this move alongside other recent updates from Google affecting search results, it is clear that SEO has entered, and still is entering, a major paradigm shift. The traditional, tactical role of targeting keywords through on-page SEO elements (adding more keywords) and building anchor text-optimized links has been replaced with quality content marketing that provides utility, demonstrates topical relevance and earns popularity among social connections. In other words, a more personalized search is being introduced that won’t rank sites based on how relevant they are to specific keywords, but instead on how useful they are at answering queries to you and to your online community.

It all began on May 21, 2010, when Google introduced encrypted web search, removing certain referrer strings from the code and then announcing that all users logged-in to Google properties would not have their referrer keyword data reported. Over the next three and a half years, more and more users remained logged-in to Google while searching (now the norm) and top browsers (Firefox and Chrome) implemented SSL encryption, eliminating roughly 50% of keyword data worldwide. Then, on September 23 of this year, Google made all searches “secure”, cutting off all keyword data, and thus heralding the “data apocalypse.” Except, of course, from their paid search advertising meal ticket.

But not knowing which specific keywords are driving traffic to your site is not the end of SEO, as we know it. There are several workarounds that allow us to estimate with accuracy, such as measuring your site’s rankings in the search results for various keywords. Although this is only an indicator, if a ranking for your top referring keyword has improved to a top position, you can attribute any increase in volume, engagement and conversion to this change with a fair amount of certainty. Another solid method for inferring keyword data is by creating a custom segment within analytics to isolate all users coming in from the “(not provided)” source and then view which landing pages they are arriving on. From this, you should be able to establish which keyword, or at least which keyword theme, is driving traffic. The other two obvious methods would be to use Bing keyword data (depending on share of traffic) as a representative sample for overall organic search traffic or to derive insights from your paid search campaign results.

google2

With this custom segment we can determine volumes around menu, delivery, and location keyword themes.

The most important takeaway from this move by Google is how it fits into the much larger puzzle of recent search updates that have completely re-shaped the practice of SEO. First off, the integration of all Google accounts along with the growing share of users that are always signed in while searching has led to a larger influence of Google+ within the search results. Websites that have been +1’d or content that has been shared by anyone in your network (or your network’s network) will have a significant advantage at ranking highly for relevant searches. For example, if you are searching for pizza delivery and someone in your Google+ circles has +1’d a place close-by, a website that would normally rank on the second or third page of results may now rank in the top three positions. Highly localized and personalized search means Google is clearly not finished trying to make Google+, and its seamless connectivity across all Google entities, a significant player.

The latest update to Google’s algorithm, known as Hummingbird, is an update designed to address the rise of more specific, long-winded and diverse searches such as “organic/vegetarian restaurants near the Air Canada Centre.” People are not simply searching for broad, general keywords anymore. In fact, 20% of searches every day are new and unique. The new Google algorithm – with its patented synonym identification based on co-occurring themes – allows it to parse full questions (as opposed to parsing searches keyword by keyword), and therefore allows it to identify and rank answers to those full questions within indexed content. In other words, Google is now understanding more conversational searches, as well as crawling sites in a more topical and contextual manner. While keywords are still important, more weight is being placed on how keywords interact to tell a full story, demonstrated by a recent SEO trend of over-investing in high-quality content from authoritative sources.

When you combine Google’s removal of keyword-specific data from site analytics, the recent rise of local and personalized search results and the shift in algorithm to focus more on topical relevance/authority, it’s clear that SEO will never be the same. Gone are the days of measuring keyword volumes and cheating the system through technicalities. Now that we’re all logged-in to Google most of the time, user tendencies, location and network all have an impact on search results. Furthermore, the Hummingbird algorithm update has broadened the scope of how Google crawls sites and understands content, setting the stage of more emphasis on high-quality, utilitarian content, in more conversational and topically relevant settings. So this “data apocalypse” and accompanying tweaks to what sites match our queries is actually an exciting and welcome development in the world of SEO. The lines between SEO and generally solid digital strategy are becoming increasingly blurred, as the focus is no longer on the keywords themselves, but on the audiences and their immediate needs. It is now near impossible to be lazy about creating and optimizing content – a welcome development from where we’re sitting.