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Optimizing Pages for New and Improved Search Engine Users

Mark Jackson
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A client of mine recently mentioned his analytics show a radical shift in the types of searches sending traffic to his B2B Web site. His primary keywords (those he wants us to focus on in our SEO efforts) aren’t driving significant traffic these days. Rather than the bulk of search traffic flowing through those primary keyword phrases, he’s seeing hundreds of less likely terms that send one or two people per month.

His Web site hasn’t suffered a significant loss in traffic. There has simply been a redistribution of the wealth. It’s not surprising that more and more companies are experiencing this phenomenon. In fact, SEO experts in the know predicted this years ago. It’s not that organic search engine optimization is less effective; it’s just that search engine users are becoming familiar with and educated in more effective ways to search.

Changes in Search Behavior

Back in 1999, anyone searching for shoes would type the word “shoes” in the search field and press enter, expecting perfect results to appear at the top. Not surprisingly, this expectation rarely met instant gratification. Users would scroll down the list of search results until they found anything slightly resembling a relevant result. Because most of us were new to the Internet, we probably even tried shoes.com before breaking down and learning how to use a search engine. How times have changed!

In 2007, people use advanced search options, Boolean commands, and various combinations of personal and local search tools. By doing something as simple as creating a personal account with Google, users are teaching Google what they want to read, thus significantly altering the SERPs for millions of sophisticated and search-educated individuals.

"The Database of Intentions"

Even without all the tools, we’ve learned to define our desires with more specificity. I don’t just want to find any shoe – I want to find discount prices on brand new Puma Replica II’s, specifically in safari brown/bistro green. With that knowledge, I type more descriptive terms, or those I expect are used to describe that exact shoe. Eight or nine years ago, I could have spent half an hour or more just wading through all the irrelevant results. Today, I find what I want within the first five results (assuming some black hat SEOs haven’t helped irrelevant Web content rank, pushing the relevant results down).

Credit must be given to Google, Yahoo!, MSN, Ask, and other search engines. The algorithms that determine rankings have been revised and reworked an untold number of times. That's because it's in the search engines’ best interest to deliver relevant results and to understand how users think.

What's an Optimizer to Do?

But the question remains: If users type in complex phrases precisely defining what they want, how can I possibly optimize for all those terms? The answer is twofold. First, without thousands of pages and months of spare time, you can’t optimize for everything. That’s okay, though. Imagine spending even 50 hours building and optimizing pages to draw a mere 20-200 visitors per year. Unless your visitors convert to some serious cash, that's a waste of your time and online marketing budget.

The best way to optimize for today’s educated user is to: (a) write all site content in a very conversational and natural manner, and (b) create a site blog, press releases, and white papers or articles – i.e., consistently add fresh content.

There will inevitably be some organizations that stick to the standard static Web site concept because they either fail to understand the value of optimizing for long-tail search or because they still fail to see why extra time, energy, and resources should be spent on this strange Web phenomenon. If you’re reading this article, you are obviously not one of these dinosaurs.

In next week’s piece, we’ll take a look at why the two methods I mentioned above are so effective for long-tail optimization.


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