Curse of the 10 blue links

Ten blue links is what most people expect to see when they look up a term on Google, but according to Tim Schigel, that’s not really what they’re searching for.

The CEO of Share This, a provider of tools that let publishers immediately push content to search engines and social networking sites, says most people in marketing roles continue to think of search engines as a combination of Web sites, content and links. As search engine optimization (SEO) has evolved, however, he said online marketing strategies need to be based on people, interests and relationships.

“People are looking for trust and relevance,” he says. “Marketers need to learn how to understand the power of influence and how to tap into it.”

Schigel was among the speakers at Search Engine Strategies, a conference for marketers held in Toronto this week. The focus of the event was on effectively using SEO to gain greater placement of vendor Web sites in search results, and to help potential customers find products and services faster.

Speed is a big issue in SEO right now, said Stacey Jarvis, search lead for consumer and online at Microsoft Canada. Right now 50 per cent of sessions – the time people spend on Google, or Microsoft’s recently launched Bing – are more than 30 minutes. Only nine per cent are less than three minutes.

This suggests people are having a difficult time getting the results they want, she said.

“We’re seeing huge growth in the amount of searching going on, but the satisfaction in search is actually decreasing,” she said in a session called “The Future of Search. “Only one in four queries are delivering successful results, and 15 per cent of queries are completely abandoned.”

Worse, Jarvis said 42 per cent of searches typically require “refinements.” That means they might search for something like “air conditioner” but only afterwards searching for a specific model, and then refining the search to a city like Ottawa.

In other words, users rarely get their queries right the first time, so marketers need to figure out not only what will get their attention, but what mistakes they might make trying to find something that interests them.

Three types of queries

A key step, said Shari Thurow, is identifying the kind of queries that users make. Thurow, SEO Director of Omni Marketing Interactive, said queries are either navigational, informational or transactional. Informational queries, which might involve having a question answered, looking up quick facts or browsing reviews and lists, are fairly well understood. Navigational queries are often overlooked, she said, but are the second-most common form of query.

Users want to figure out where something is on the site or online, and a lot of their time is spent “refinding” things they’ve searched for in the past.

“They won’t remember the name of the product, so they’ll just enter something like, ‘help desk software,’ again,” she said. Jarvis supported this point, mentioning that 24 per cent of searchers are doing what she called “quick click backs” to get where they were previously in a session.

Transactional queries might suggest e-commerce, but Thurow said they could represent much more than that. Users might be looking for content to download, or to watch a video rather than making a purchase.

Mike Grehan, global KDM officer of Acronym Media, said some of his clients are tackling SEO by ensuring they offer content in something other than text form.

For example, companies are beginning to focus more on optimizing product images, he said, or even creating optimized videos in place of product descriptions. “Let’s say you’re looking up tango lessons,” he said. “Do you want to see 10 blue links or would you rather just go straight to a video?”

Jeff Quip, CEO of Search Engine People based in Ajax, Ont., noted that YouTube has become the No. 2 search engine on the Web, and is, of course, owned by the No. 1, Google. As marketers try to better understand the search algorithms, he pointed out that Google is also changing the way its algorithms work, offering local results for generic queries like pizza. This could help some companies, he said. Thurow said that while SEO is getting more complex, a few truths remain.

“Ten years ago search was about keywords and links,” she said. “That has not changed. And it’s not going to change in another 10 years.”

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