Google Misunderstands What My Business Does, Will It Hurt My Rankings?
Recently, our business started getting phone calls from people in Las Vegas and in Lake Havasu who were asking how much it would be to install internet into their houses. We explain to them that we are an “internet marketing service” that provides marketing for businesses using internet spaces. When we ask them how they found us, the reply was always the same, “we found you on Google maps when we Googled internet services.” This obviously explains the issue, and why people would call us. Google has obviously placed us in a category of businesses that provide services that we do not offer, and even though we have gone to great lengths to make sure people understand what we do, Google itself does not understand that “internet service” might mean something different than installing internet in homes. The immediate question that we had to figure out is “will this effect the rankings for the things that we want to be presented for?” If Google misunderstands what my business does, will it hurt my rankings for the searches that actually do describe the services we provide. The easiest way to answer this question is “yes and no.”
When we looked into the maps rankings for “internet services in Lake Havasu” we found ourselves at number one. Typically, this would not be an issue unless we had lost rankings for better descriptions. This means that if we noticed that Google did not rank us for “internet marketing service” there would be a problem we should address. However, this was not the case and we were still presented at number one for all of the searches that accurately describe our services. So why would it be a problem if everyone who you wanted to find you was finding you, and extra people who you were not targeting would find you too? Why is extra traffic that has no cost and takes no effort a bad thing? The answer is in the “bounce rate” and “user engagement.”
SEO is a process of streamlining the message of a website so that Google not only understands it but also views it as more important than everyone else who is competing for the same words. You literally have to use every tool at your disposal to make the message more clear than the next guy. This is going to entail content and code and links and every other thing you can tweak to your advantage. Something like an “alt tag” being missing on a photo might not be a big deal, but when you are being compared to another site that has used them appropriately it might make the difference between number one and number two. For this reason we must consider what people are doing when they land on our website, because Google has stated that they consider user actions as part of their ranking factors. If people go to a lot of pages of a website and stay there for a long time, Google thinks that this proves that people are finding the information they are looking for. They believe that the website is more accurate and more meaningful if people stay longer on it than on other sites. This might also be the difference between number one and number two.
This forces us to consider ancillary traffic to a website as a negative thing. If you drive a whole bunch of people to a website by promising them something that isn’t there, they are going to land on the page and then immediately exit because they did not find what they were looking for. Their actions are showing Google that the site is not very good information and as a result rankings might be effected negatively. When Google is misunderstanding that the SEO and internet marketing business is not the same thing as the internet installation business, the rankings for both may be harmed if the site itself attracts customers looking for the wrong things.
While it is not clear at this point what effect this will have on a website’s rankings, we have to assume that Google will get better and better at understanding the nature of the business by the content on the website. While this may be flushed out in the future, the current rankings would seemingly be negatively effected by this misperception. For that reason, our judgment call would be to take steps toward better defining the understanding that people have of the business when they see it presented on Google’s results, even if it is in the wrong category. While we couldn’t care less if Google presents us for something wrong as long as they also present us for something right, we also want the people who see the business listing to not click through if it is obviously a mistake. For these reasons, we modify the title of the business and the description to include more specific language that describes our service line. This will reduce the amount of “accidental traffic” and streamline the existing traffic to being people who are actually interested in our products and services.