Yesterday we looked at how companies who manage to get decent positions in the Google results then fail to capitalise on this massive marketing asset by failing to make the results attractive. Today I thought I’d look at a real example, and offer a critique of the top results. I’ve chosen an area I know well, automation engineering, and a product type which has been one of the most heavily marketed of the last 20 years, pneumatic cylinders. The leading manufacturers include Festo, Norgren, SMC, Parker and Bosch Rexroth, so I would expect to see those companies right up there, along with at least one good independent “authority” site. What we get, of course, is nothing of the sort, showing just how far both Google and the companies themselves have to go.
Before we look at the “natural” Google results, we can see there’s an “arms race” between Norgren and SMC Pneumatics in the yellow Google AdWords box, to be in the top position. I doubt that’s down to cost-effectiveness (it can be very expensive to appear at the top), but more down to compensating for the fact that neither manufacturer appears on the first page of the natural results (or the second, or third, or fourth). The companies which are appearing at the top of the natural Google results may not realise just how much their competitors are spending to buy their way into the same position.
So, what do we see in first place? Much the same as we see for thousands of other searches: Wikipedia.
Many website owners find Wikipedia’s dominance of the Google results to be a little frustrating, but I find it almost reassuring to know it’s there. And it’s right that it should be: although we may only be concerned with Google users who want to source suppliers, a large number want to find out what something actually is – and Wikipedia is the number one place online to do just that. I suspect that if Google put Wikipedia down to position three or four on the page, it would still get more clicks than the items above it, which is why it works its way to the top. It’s nothing for us to worry about.
Next we get the first commercial manufacturer, and it’s one of the big names in the industry, Parker:
Parker will be very pleased with its number two position, I’m sure, especially as it’s (rather oddly) chosen to title the page “air cylinders” (an equivalent term), even though it refers to them as “pneumatic cylinders” on the page. Google obviously understands the equivalence of the two terms. The company has made no attempt to write a description of the page for Google, so the result just shows two lines of text pulled from the page, which – fortunately – makes sense, even if the sentence gets truncated. The page URL (in green) is horrible, presumably the result of some awful content management system which pays little attention to search engine optimisation. Then again, with a number two position for such an important term, maybe Parker doesn’t need to care.
In third place, Google has chosen “shopping results”, a poor choice on the part of the search engine, I feel:
Google is a long way from getting this sort of thing right, but the companies who are featured will be very grateful, I’m sure. Next up is a major distributor in the market sector, RS Components, and an example of something known as the “exact match domain”:
RS Components always performs strongly in Google searches, partially because of the strong linking it gets from the companies for which it distributes. However, you can see that it’s also attempted to make the most of its entry, writing a solid title and description which feature the search term and which are reasonably attractive to readers. Unfortunately both are too long, and get truncated by Google, which is a shame.
The result under this is from a company called Pneumatic Cylinders & Couplings Inc., and is, quite frankly, an example of Google getting things wrong. While the company is indeed involved in the pneumatic cylinders field, it is a relatively small US outfit which has, I suspect, scored highly because its actual domain name includes the term “pneumatic cylinders”. It shouldn’t be a major result here in the UK. I’ll talk about this phenomenon more later in the week.
At positions six, seven and eight, we find three straightforward manufacturers, including a second of the big names in the market:
Airtechnics has made a decent effort at making its entry look attractive, although the title is too long and has been truncated. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if its position has benefited from having such a nice-looking entry. Don’t forget, the more people who click on your entry, the higher Google will place it. Under this, ACC has been incredibly lucky. It has a serviceable title, but hasn’t written a description, so Google has taken a chunk of text off the page, and – by fluke – it fits beautifully. The URL in green is clunky, but probably effective.
Festo is a major player, and you would expect it to figure strongly in the Google results, but it turns out to be its “FAQ” page about pneumatics which is ranked most highly, probably because other sites link to it for definitions. That’s a great example of how “authority” pages can work: I suspect that despite Festo’s position in the market, it wouldn’t have made it on to page one of the Google results at all had it relied on its product page. Festo has written a description for the page, but it’s rubbish, so Google has taken some text off the page instead. Unlike ACC, this hasn’t worked well. Festo also suffers from having an SEO-unfriendly content management system, like Parker, so the URL is also of no help.
And finally we get to positions nine, ten and eleven:
The Univer entry could be so much better. Its title is perfunctory (why the “MFG”? The company’s name is Univer Manufacturing, so the weirdly-capitalised “MFG” just looks like the work of a semi-literate web developer) and there’s been no attempt at writing a description, so Google has had to try to come up with something nice, but it’s failed. EBay gets favoured treatment from Google, and presumably knows it. Every page has the same description, which Google kindly runs in part (the first of the three lines), but then Google goes on to rip an additional two lines of text off the page, which is a bit messy. I doubt that eBay users care. Finally we have Davis Pneumatic Systems, which has written a title and description that can hardly be described as elaborate, but they’re functional and look a lot better than some of the efforts from the big players in the market, so well done.
What can we learn from all of this? Although the way in which a company directs Google to show its results may not have a significant impact on the actual position in the results, it can make results stand out against even the biggest competitors. It’s easy to write good titles and descriptions (go back and look at my 4-20mA aerospace widgets example yesterday), so why don’t more companies bother? Ignorance, I guess. Scanning down the page, some results definitely look more attractive than others, and I’d bet that they get significantly more clicks. Although one or two are just flukes, at least some have had a bit of thought put into them.