Archive for the ‘search’ Category

Search Engines Are A Conduit, Not A Source

Let’s get this out of the way: Search engines are a key part of communications nowadays. Take a look at your website analytics and it’ll be clear – there’s no avoiding it. Search engines usually drive a significant proportion – if not the majority – of traffic to companies’ websites.

However, I’m tired of seeing “studies” showing that “search engines” are a source of information for consumers.

Search engines are a conduit – a step along the path – not a source.

Think about it – when you look for information on something, you go to Google (or Bing, or Ask.com, or whoever…) and type in your query. The vast majority of the time, you don’t sit and look at the results page – you click through to a result. You do that because the results pages have the information, not the search engine.

Yes, there are exceptions – Google News, for example – and sometimes you’ll find the information you need in the title or description shown in the search results, but the majority of the time you pass straight through the search engine and on to your destination. Search engines understand this – Google optimizes its page to get you off its site as quickly as possible.

Why does this matter, and am I just being pedantic?

Because the nodding and agreement that comes from headlines about search engines as an information source interferes with the push to answer more important questions:

  • Do consumers in my market niche, rather than generic consumers,  use search engines to research their products?
  • Once my consumers have searched (or not), where do they go?
    • Do they go to product review sites to check out other peoples’ reviews?
    • Do they go to corporate sites to read-up on specs and options?
    • Do they go to news sites to see what’s going on with the company or the product?
    • Do they go to blogs to check out discussions there?

This is the sort of information that’s useful. This is the sort of information that lets my team figure out where to prioritize its efforts in order to drive search engine optimization (driving consumer reviews; publishing product-focused content; driving earned media coverage, etc).

Also, there’s a big difference between customers of different industries - preferences along these lines are what we should be digging into (note: this is another report that cites “search results” as an influential channel). We need to be thinking more closely about that.

I get it. Search is important. Companies need to pay attention to search (and invest more in optimizing both organic results and the paid media around those results). Etc etc. And yes, some companies aren’t paying attention.

For the rest of us, though – those of us trying to do the best we can, and who really want to optimize based on useful insights – let’s move beyond the “search results are an important information source” nonsense and get down to the business of finding useful insights that can fuel our communication strategy.

Fair?

McDonalds Content and Social Search

Fast food contentMichael Arrington wrote an interesting post recently about the ongoing evolution in the news business. Referring to “the end of hand crafted content” as he sees it, Arrington speculates that, just as “old media” complained about the emergence of “new media” such as TechCrunch, the “new media” will soon begin complaining about the next generation of media.

The story in brief

In Arrington’s view, this next generation of content producers isn’t an evolution of “news” – it’s a new generation of low-end SEO chasers:

“So what really scares me? It’s the rise of fast food content that will surely, over time, destroy the mom and pop operations that hand craft their content today. It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, force fed to us by the portals and search engines.”

Referring to it as “a race to the bottom, Arrington refers to the content created by  these producers as “McDonalds content.” As he puts it:

“…get ready for it, because you’ll be reading McDonalds five times a day in the near future. My advice to content creators is more subtle. Figure out an even more disruptive way to win, or die.”

My thoughts

I have two primary thoughts on this…

1. McDonald’s content?

I give Arrington credit for his frank take on this. It was somewhat refreshing to see TechCrunch acknowledging that soon sites like theirs will be the ones complaining about disruption in their industry. It’s also refreshing to see a prediction other than the devolution of news content into the lowest common denominator based on being first to print on a story (which is the direction we’ve seen both old and new media take in recent years).

On the flip side, I’m amused that he doesn’t think TechCrunch is in the “McDonalds” category already. TechCrunch, Engadget and their ilk have made their names by being first to the punch, often at the expense of balance or accuracy, so there’s a certain element of “pot, meet kettle” here.

Of course there are differences, especially with one of the two types of new company in the market – the ones which chase search trends with masses of articles. They’re a different beast, but let’s not kid ourselves that the existing players don’t play that game too. Google “Tiger Woods TechCrunch” for example, and you’ll see what I mean.

2. The case for social search

If existing search engine technologies, and the industry that’s emerged around them, have reached the point where content creators can game the system with sub-par (read: low value) content, then we can really make the case that these existing technologies have reached their limit.

Perhaps the answer lies in the potential for social connections to contextualize and prioritize our search results. Joe Thornley wrote an interesting post the other day suggesting exactly that – that “search continues to be a blunt instrument” and that social search might be a solution to the problem.

It’s not a new concept – Google rolled-out social search in Google Labs a couple of months ago – but, if Arrington’s “McDonalds media” predictions come to pass, I wonder if consumers’ frustrations might lead to enough demand to bump social search up into the mainstream.

What do you think? Is there a real danger for the next generation of news to manifest itself in this way? Is social search a potential solution?

(Image: Shutterstock)

When Search Can Make Or Break You

It’s hard to argue nowadays that search isn’t important. It’s not often, though, that you see a real-world product completely base its advertising around it.

Check out these ads for the movie 2012, being launched on November 13:

Transit ad for 2012 movie

Billboard ad for 2012 movie

No website on either of them – just an instruction to “Search: 2012.”

If the website for this movie didn’t make it onto the top few pages of search results, through either organic or paid search. The movie would be in trouble, as the URL isn’t obvious either (whowillsurvive2012.com).

Fortunately for the studio, the movie tops the organic results (especially fortunate given there’s no sign of paid search):

2012 search results

Would you be confident enough in your website’s SEO to leave your URL out of your ads?

SearchWiki: Six Implications For Public Relations Professionals

Google recently announced SearchWiki, a way for people to customize their search results by promoting, deleting, adding and commenting on search results. I see six implications of this change for digital public relations and marketing professionals if this becomes a popular feature:

  1. Another place to monitor
  2. Increased customer interaction
  3. Control by the customer
  4. Advantage goes to the existing players
  5. More expensive Adwords
  6. (Unconfirmed) SEO potential

First, though, a few basics for those of you that haven’t heard much about this yet…

What is Google SearchWiki?

giggle Essentially, Google SearchWiki represents the “diggification” of Google that has been discussed on sites like Googlified and Valleywag for a long time now. This, in its own way, turns Google search results into a wiki, where people can promote, relegate and comment on search results for every search term.

At a practical level, SearchWiki means that when you’re logged-in to Google you’ll see three new buttons alongside each of your search results:

  • Promote – moves the item to the top of the list of results
  • Remove – does exactly what it says
  • Comment – lets you leave a public comment about the result

There are also links at the bottom that let people add new sites to the results page, and allow people to see the notes that other people have made about their search results.

Why are they doing this?

I see a couple of reasons why Google has done this (and no, altruism isn’t one of them). Both of them relate to advertising:

  1. People are likely to spend more time on Google now – in the past, success for them was people finding what they were looking for and leaving Google quickly;
  2. People may come to Google (even) more as they can tailor the results for their commonly-used search terms
  3. People will increasingly see their own preferred sites in the search results, making Google Adwords an increasingly important way of getting noticed

Why should PR professionals care?

First, a caveat: I don’t know what proportion of Google users have (and use) a Google account. I suspect it may not be that high, but that’s just a suspicion. If the numbers are low, relatively few people will have access to these features so their impact may be limited.

Should Google SearchWiki take off, it has several important implications for public relations and digital marketing professionals:

  • Another place to monitor – The comments on search results represent another place where people can publicly comment on your brand
  • Increased customer interaction – For companies going beyond simply monitoring online conversations the comments on search results for your brand are yet another place to engage your existing and potential customers.
  • Control by the customer – Assuming SearchWiki becomes popular, it has some important implications for search engine marketers. For those working in good faith to legitimately optimize sites, they may see an increased return on their efforts. However, black-hat SEO people beware – if you somehow manage to ‘game’ the system but your site isn’t relevant, people will be able to simply remove the site from their future results. What’s more, while Google won’t currently use peoples’ voting when determining search results, there also remains the possibility that they will begin to in the future. Given Google’s data-driven nature, I’d be astonished if they don’t eventually do something with that data.
  • Advantage goes to the existing players – As people increasingly tailor their search results, the companies that are already in the game have an increasing advantage. The more results that people promote in their list, the harder it will become to break through into the first page of results.
  • More expensive Adwords – This directly relates to the previous point. The harder that it becomes for companies to break through into the first page of results, the higher demand will be for Google’s ads on those results, and the more expensive the ads for those pages will become.
  • (Unconfirmed) SEO potential: This may open up a whole new aspect to SEO – trying to optimize your SearchWiki comment results. There are just rumours and rumblings about this, though.

Conclusion

If SearchWiki becomes popular, it has some pretty important implications for digital PR and marketing.

I’ve outlined the six areas that I see implications for; what else do you see?

Google Reader and Delicious: Personalized Search Engines

Everyone I know uses Google to search for things online. I do the same thing on most topics. When it comes to communications, marketing or social media, though, I have two other resources I search before going to Google’s main search.

Google Reader

Google ReaderI have two main communications/marketing/social media folders in my Google Reader:

  • A-list
  • Other

My A-list consists of 40-50 sites that I consider must-reads. I check them daily, and try to keep the unread posts to a minimum.

My other folder includes a couple of hundred other sites that I value and respect, but don’t have time to check daily. There are thousands of unread posts in there, although I do dip in occasionally and read a few. This folder is my search resource.

If I want to search on one of the three topics I mentioned earlier, my first action is to go to Google Reader and plug the search in there. This searches all of my subscriptions, providing me with a highly personalized search engine. Nine times out of ten, I’ll find multiple articles on what I’m looking for on the first page or two of these results.

Del.icio.us

del.icio.usIf my Google Reader search fails me, my second stop is del.icio.us. I have three search options there:

  • Search my bookmarks
  • Search my network’s bookmarks
  • Search everyone’s bookmarks

I work my way through these three searches, starting with my own bookmarks and working my way out to everyone’s. With these searches, I try to think of the kinds of tags I would use for the kind of results I’m looking for, and search for them.

With these two resources at hand, I find I rarely have to resort to a regular Google search.

What resources do you use for your searches?

Why Your Small Business Needs To Get Online

No matter how small your business is, if you don’t have an online presence you’re missing a huge opportunity.

I’m currently helping to organize an outdoor event in Southwest Ontario for a client. I needed to find a company from whom we could rent a large tent for the event.

Where to start?

Google, naturally.

To my amazement, I couldn’t find any search results for tent rental companies in that area. I tried several combinations of keywords; nothing useful or still in business. I got a few results for the rest of the province and a few defunct companies, but nothing useful.

This isn’t to say there weren’t any companies out there. Soon enough, through a little leg-work, I found a company. By that point, though, every other company in the area had missed the boat.

One simple website, optimized for appropriate search terms (like “tent rental” and the town name), would have owned those search results and won the business for its owner (or, at least, won the chance to pitch us their services to me). Instead, all of these companies missed their chance.

Even if you’re a sole proprietorship, you’re missing out if your company is not online. It doesn’t take much:

  • Buy your domain name ([YourCompany].com, .ca, .org etc.) and establish your site (or pay someone else to set it up)
  • Add your business to Google’s Local Business Centre

I would also consider numerous social media activities depending on the situation and the business (blogging, social networking sites, community engagement, etc.), but two things above are an absolute minimum for even the smallest business.

Nowadays, if you don’t exist online you might as well not exist.

Update: Mitch Joel talked about this very topic – getting started online – in a recent episode of Six Pixels of Separation.

Website Grader: One-Stop Search Engine Optimization Analysis

Website Grader is a free search engine optimization tool that measures the marketing effectiveness of your website.

Provided by Hubspot, the service looks at over 50 factors and provides you with a score that ranks your site alongside all of the other sites it has assessed.

Website GraderJust input your website’s address and (optionally) a few keywords for your site and/or competitors’ web addresses, and the site spits churns out a report packed with useful tips for improving the marketing of your site.

Analyzing Your Site

Website Grader looks at six broad areas:

  1. On-page SEO - metadata, keywords, images, readability, interior pages
  2. Off-page SEO – inbound links, Google PageRank, domain info, traffic, relevant directory services, indexed pages
  3. Blogosphere - whether you have a blog, how it ranks on Technorati, recent blog posts
  4. Social Mediasphere - limited to del.icio.us and digg
  5. Converting visitors to leads - do you have an RSS feed and conversion form?
  6. Competitive intelligence - how well you rank and how you shape up compared to your competitors

How This Site Measures Up

I ran the report twice, three weeks apart, to compare the results. I was pleased to see that my score rose from 85% to 92% over that time, meaning this site ranks higher than 92% of the sites Website Grader has looked at.

I still have a bit of work to do:

  • I need to insert meta keywords into my template
  • I need to remember to use alt tags on all my images
  • My domain name registration will expire in six months; renewing it would be a good idea
  • My Google PageRank could use a boot up the rear end
  • The site isn’t listed on any third-party directories.

Conclusion

Website Grader is a very useful tool. It’s not comprehensive by any means (the social media section in particular is far from complete) but it provides an excellent top-level analysis of your site that, combined with other tools, can help you to improve your site’s visibility.

Of course, none of this is any use if you don’t provide good content for your visitors.

How does your site measure up? What could you tweak to make your content more visible?

Information R/evolution

Check out this amazing video on how the Internet is forcing us to adapt the way we organize, find and indeed think about information.

I don’t like to gush about things, but this is cool. What’s more, it’s true.

Hat tip: Ed Lee from Blogging Me Blogging You. Thanks Ed.