Impact of Gmail in Personal Search Results on Email Marketing and SEO

On Aug. 8, Google released a field trial for one of its newest features: displaying Gmail messages within personal search results. As with many of Google’s recently added features, the net is buzzing with negative sentiment and resistance to yet another seemingly invasive skewing of search results.

From an SEO and overall marketing perspective I actually see the new feature as a positive one. Almost a year after Google launched its SSL search for signed in users, SEO practitioners are still left bruised and licking their wounds. As a result of Google SSL search, Covario’s SEO clients are reporting that on average between – 26-36% of their traffic stems from withheld keywords. Those numbers are bound to increase quite a bit when the latest version of Firefox (20% adoption rate) rolls out with built-in default Google SSL search.

So, if we surrender to the fact that personalized search will eventually become the norm in terms of search engine results – I believe the new feature provides companies with an opportunity to tie their email-marketing and SEO / SEM efforts together quite nicely – it also incentivizes businesses to align their email communications with what really matters to its customers or followers. By optimizing and tailoring e-mail campaigns around relevant keywords, companies increase their odds of staying visible to their customer base.

To help illustrate my point, I’ll outline a brief experiment I did:

I’ve set up two email addresses as follows:
1. newsletter@smartphone.chararas.com
2. deals@blackberry.chararas.com

The first address is to investigate what effect the keyword as part of the domain may have in the results. The second address is to test the impact of having the brand name in the domain.

Here’s a list of emails I’ve sent myself using the first address and the results for each search:

Subject: “Best deals on BlackBerry phones”
Body: None
Search: BlackBerry Phones
Result: In SERP

Search: smartphones
Result: In SERP

In both instances – whether targeting a branded term or the non-branded term – my test email that contained the keywords in the domain or subject line showed up in the results.

For the second email I sent from this address I chose to omit the branded keyword from the subject line and move it to the actual body of the email.

Subject: Weekly newsletter
Body: find the best prices on blackberry phones

Search: blackberry phones
Result: Not in SERP

Search: blackberry prices
Result: Not in SERP

Search: find the best prices on blackberry phones — Exact body content
Result: Not in SERP

Search: newsletter
Result: In SERP

Results of these searches showed that the body content of the email has no impact on the results, whereas the mailbox prefix (e.g. newsletter@…) does.

Using the second email address, which actually contains the brand in the subdomain, I sent the following email.

Subject: Today only – the best deals
Body: None

Search: blackberry
Result: In SERP

Search: blackberry deals
Result: In SERP

Search: best deals
Result In SERP

As expected, all these queries resulted in the email messages showing up in my personal results.

What was a little odd, however, was that an extremely generic query for a single term contained within the subject of the email still returned a result.

Search: today
Result: In SERP

In the future, I believe Google will probably omit displaying email results for overly generic matches, as those will surely provide no added value to the user.

In summary, here is the list of email components that when injected with a keyword, currently have an impact on your personal search results.

The following template could serve as a best practice when creating mass email communications.

Actionable Insight:
It’s really too early to say how Google’s new feature will impact the world of SEO and email marketing, since the algorithm determining what results are displayed seems fairly simple so far. As it currently stands, one key take-away is that email marketers should consult with their SEO counterparts to make sure each email-blast they send out contains a focused keyword target within the subject line of the email since the body content does not seem to have an impact on displayed results. The content of the email should naturally support the target keyword and offer users relevant information and links.

Further Reading: Respected industry pundit Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land covers some additional features in his post here.