iMarket Solutions Blog : Posts Tagged ‘SEO’

Buying Links is Bad Policy

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

You can hear those promises all over the internet: “we can make your website number one on Google.” Any SEO company that makes a promise like that is lying. It is simply impossible to guarantee any particular position for your website in Google’s search results, especially since each unique search will bring up different results. What any good SEO company can do for you: optimize you site with good, keyword rich content. Provide interesting material that people will want to read and find useful.  And update your website regularly with new content, such as a frequently posting to your blog. All of these things are great ways to encourage Google to crawl your website and improve your rankings.

What a bad SEO company will do: buy links to your site. The number and quality of links from other websites helps Google determine how useful people find your site and that impacts how high it ranks in you in search results. Buying links is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and they are very good at detecting these paid links. While it is possible to buy hundreds of links for your site, almost all of these will be from low quality sources that will not help your ranking. And if they do, the effect is only temporary. It will seem to work for the first few months, and then your website will disappear from search results. Why does this happen? Because Google will penalize your company if they find out you are buying links. Here is Google’s Webmaster Guidelines statement about link schemes:

…some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results. Examples of link schemes can include:

  • Links intended to manipulate PageRank
  • Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
  • Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)

A great example of a link scheme gone wrong: J.C. Penny. JC Penny was doing a fantastic job in getting great organic search results for almost anything they sold in their store. The New York Times investigated this phenomenon (read the article here), and found thousands of unrelated websites were linking to J.C. Penny, all using exactly the search terms that of J.C. Penny’s most popular products. When this was reported to Google, they took immediate action. JC Penny went from ranking number one on their main search terms to positions much closer to 78th (which is on the 7th page of search results).  J.C. Penny blamed their SEO firm, Search Dex, who had obviously designed a massive link building scheme.  While buying links definitely did work (at first), it is going to take a long time for JC Penny search results to recover. And the impact of these types of penalties will have much greater effect on smaller companies. (To see a more detailed explanation, check out this article on Search Engine Land)

However, there are some ways that you can help you company rank well without engaging in spam or buying links.

  • Directory listings are counted by Google as citations, and the number and quality of these citations is a part your local search rankings. Optimizing these listings will help you build a consistent web presence which will help your website and to help customers find your business.
  • Create interesting content on your blog that people will want to share will lead to natural links. Examples of this would be local events and funny stories of things that have happened at your company. When people want to share what they read on your blog, you can earn links from other blogs, local websites or industry websites.
  • You can also get your company involved in your community. If you donate money, volunteer for a charity, or join your local Chamber of Commerce, these organizations might link to your website. You did not buy these links; they reflect real relationships and are not counted as spam.

Buying links is a very risky operation, one which good SEO companies strongly advise against.  The immediate gratification of an artificial spike in rankings may be tempting, but the punishment that comes when you’re caught is worse than starting from scratch. There are many other, less risky ways to ways to improve your company’s rankings, ones that do not violate search engine guidelines. The best links are hard to get, and these natural links are worth a lot more than any links you can buy.

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Does Your Business Have a Place in Google Places? It Should!

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

You may not be familiar with the term “Google Places”, but if you’ve ever used Google to hunt for a local business, you’ve definitely seen Google Places in action. When you search for a local business or type of business, you’ll get Google Places listings at the top (or near the top) of your search results. The listing consists of the business name (or several names, if you searched for a type of business), along with a map of your area with red “teardrop” markers showing where each business is located.

Each Google Places listing has two links. If you click on the “Place Page” link next to a business name, you’ll be taken to Google’s Place Page for that business. The Place Page contains contact information and a link to Google Maps directions. If you click on the name of the business, you’ll be directed to the business’s website or, if the business doesn’t have a website (or hasn’t registered its website with Google) to a “Google Places” page with basic information about the business.

There are also a lot of other cool options on Google Place Pages. For example, on your Place Page you can list your opening hours (very helpful to potential customers); your service area; payment options that you offer; and other information of your choice (for example, as Google suggests, you can let people know if you offer parking, and which brands you carry). In addition to this information, you can add photos and videos to your Places Page, or post to your Google Places page like you would to your blog.

It’s fun to set up a Google Places page for your business, but is there a business case for doing so – and for adding “extra” content like photos and videos? Absolutely. On Google Places, like everywhere on the web, fresh content is king: the more information you provide on your Google Place Page, the more active and competent your business will appear, and the more confident people will feel about contacting you.

Plus, the more complete your Google Place Page is, the more likely it is to move up in the search listings. At iMarket, we make sure that all our clients have complete Place Page listings for optimum Google performance.

Here’s another good way to assess what the ROI might be on any work you choose to put into your Place Page. Do a search for your business type in your area (for example, “electricians Burlington VT”). Check the Google Places listings that come up and take a look at whether your competitors appear in the listings and if so, how much information they offer on their Place Pages. If you offer more information on your Place Page than your competitors do, you’ll have a leg up as consumers consider their options and decide whom to contact.

Since 85% of consumers search for local businesses on the web, you’ve probably already realized that having a complete Google Place Page is likely to generate a lot of leads. So, you ask, how do I get a Google Place Page?

Well, your business might even have a Google Place Page already, because Google often generates basic Place Pages by harvesting information that is already out there on the web. You should do a Google search for your business and see if a Place Page comes up in the listings. If it does, then it’s time to beef up your Place Page. Go to your Place Page and click on the “Business owner?” link in the top right corner. You will be guided through the process of validating and adding information to your Place Page. (To confirm that you are in fact the owner of your business and not a hacker or a competitor, Google will send a postal letter to your physical address. This letter will contain a PIN number that you can use to make additional updates to your Google Place Page whenever you wish.)

If you don’t have a Google Place Page, you can register for one here: http://www.google.com/places/. Note that you will have to create a Google account first if you don’t already have one. However, if your current Google account is for personal use, you will probably want to create a new business account for use with your Place Page. Among other things, having a separate business account will mean that other people edit your Place Page without reading your Gmail.

Google Place Pages have a lot of great features and can really help your business bring in new leads…but what’s the ROI? Are they worth it? You better believe it. Google Place Pages are FREE.  Google doesn’t charge for setup or make you pay a monthly fee. There is absolutely no excuse for not having a Google Place Page.

Google Place Pages also contain another very important feature: consumer reviews. Google Place Page reviews have been a hot topic recently. We’ll explore it in next week’s post.

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Bing, SmartPhones, and the Demise of the Yellow Pages: Is Your Website Ready to Keep Up with the Trend Toward Mobile Search?

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Last week, we made a case that Bing should be taken seriously as a potential competitor to Google. Here is another good reason to make sure that your company’s website is optimized for strong placement in Bing as well as Google: Bing has been busy signing all sorts of interesting partnership deals.

One of the most important deals Bing has made recently is its partnership with Facebook. We’ll come back to that in a couple of weeks.

For now, though, we’d like to focus on another Bing partnership deal. On May 3, 2011, Bing and BlackBerry maker RIM announced that Bing will become the default search engine for all BlackBerry devices. In other words: anyone who searches for a service company on their BlackBerry will do it using Bing.

So, you ask, exactly how many people are going to be using Bing on their BlackBerry? Let’s do the numbers.

In the first quarter of 2011, there were 72.5 million smartphones in use in the US. The total US population is 311,455,000, which means that about one out of every four Americans uses a smartphone.

According to a survey of 30,000 US mobile subscribers by ComScore, an internet marketing research company, the US smartphone market breaks down as follows:

  • 34.7% of smartphones are Android devices (up from 28.7% in the last quarter of 2010)
  • 25.5% of smartphones are iPhones (up slightly from 25% in 2010)
  • 27.1% of smartphones are BlackBerry devices (down from 31.6% at the end of 2010)

Doing one last calculation, we can estimate that more than 19.5 million people – six percent of the population – will now use Bing on their BlackBerry smartphone.

What’s more, Bing is now an official search option on the iPhone, which used to be Google-only. If iPhone users are impressed, as we were, by Bing’s user-friendly layout and features, they might switch their settings and start using Bing on their iPhones as well.

(Of course, Android is a Google product, so Android users are going to be forced to stick with Google on their phones.)

Now, let’s think trends. While it’s true that BlackBerry’s market share is diminishing slightly, the cell phone market in general, especially the smartphone market, is growing. Even more importantly, an increasing number of people are getting rid of their landlines and using their mobile phone as their only phone. There’s also the trend we discussed a few weeks ago: the sharp decline in Yellow Pages use because people are using the web to look up phone numbers.

Add all these up, and you can only arrive at one conclusion: if you’re a service company, more and more people will be using their smartphones to look up your number and call you. More specifically –  going back to the first statistic we mentioned – perhaps as many as one out of four of your customers are calling you from a smartphone.

Of course, you should make sure that your website performs well in BlackBerry users’ Bing searches. But one in four is a percentage you can’t ignore: you need to ensure that your website works well on all smartphones.

Next week we’ll talk about how we at iMarket program our websites to look great and function optimally on mobile devices.

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What’s the Difference Between Bing and Google? And How Does iMarket Optimize HVAC and Plumbing Websites for Strong Performance in Both Search Engines?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, it seems pretty certain that Bing is “borrowing” from Google by using the Bing toolbar to record the way searchers interact with Google’s search results.

But that doesn’t mean that Bing and Google return identical results – far from it.

So what are the differences between Bing and Google? How do they arrive at their results? And how do those differences impact HVAC and plumbing companies that use the web to generate leads?

The answer is that we don’t really know exactly how the search engines compute their results, because they keep their secret formulas under lock and key. But we can at least make some educated guesses.

In broad strokes, here are three of the most important differences we’ve found between Bing and Google:

  • For Bing, content is king. For Google, context is. Both Bing and Google evaluate your website on a range of factors, including the actual words that appear on your site, the keywords that are incorporated into your site’s programming, and the way your website links with others. But they use this information differently to come up with their results. Bing seems to be more concerned with “on page factors” than Google is – that is, with the parts of a website that the user actually reads. Google, on the other hand, puts more emphasis on “Page Rank”, which is a complicated algorithm that essentially determines how popular your website is compared to other, similar websites.
  • Google wants to know how many people link to you; Bing wants to know why they link to you. “Backlinks”, or “incoming links”, are links from other websites to yours. Links are extremely important for calculating search results, because they offer insight into what other people think of your website. (The thinking is that if people link to your site, you must be offering something worthwhile.) Both search engines look at two factors when they evaluate incoming links: 1) how many links there are from other sites to yours; and 2) what those links say (i.e. if they contain relevant keywords). The difference is that Google seems to prioritize the quantity of links, while Bing seems to focus more on the quality of links.
  • Google likes new content; Bing likes established content. Bing pays more attention to the “authority” of a website – that is, it gives precedence to websites that have been around for a while or belong to authoritative organizations. Google, on the other hand, seems to value fresh content and is much more likely to list recent blog posts than Bing is.

For more detailed technical information on the differences between Bing and Google, check out webconfs.com.

What do the differences between the search engines mean for HVAC and plumbing companies that want to make sure that their websites get to the top of the search results and stay there?

Well, first of all, it’s important to realize that optimizing for both search engines is not a zero-sum game – that is, if you do well in one, you won’t do worse in the other (particularly since Bing seems to be borrowing Google’s results).

In fact, if your website is programmed and managed according to the best practices that we use here at iMarket, you’ll be well-positioned for strong performance in both search engines.

To make sure that our clients’ sites perform well in both Bing and Google, we start out with the fundamental element of all effective search engine optimization: great content. Of course, our SEO service includes lots of high-tech extras along the way, but content is at the heart of everything we do.

Here’s why:

  • Well-written content that truly describes your company and the products and services you offer will naturally contain good keywords. Both search engines (especially Bing) love strong on-page content with relevant keywords.
  • Well-written, useful content encourages other people to link to you. The more people link to you, the happier Google will be.
  • Adding fresh content regularly keepings those links coming, and keeps Google interested.
  • If you keep maintaining your website and adding content regularly, over time it will become an established, authoritative site, which will earn it the respect of Bing’s more conservative algorithm.

Next week, we’ll talk about how we think newcomer Bing might fare in the long term against industry giant Google.

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How to Design Your Site to Dominate Google Instant Preview

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

It’s not clear whether Google Instant Preview will take off (see last week’s blog). However, if it does, or even if it is adopted only by a significant minority of searchers, you want your site to be ready!

With Google Instant Preview, it is no longer enough to be #1 in the search rankings: you have to prove that you deserve it. The prevailing wisdom in the marketing world is that you have only a second or two to persuade people that your website is what they want. With Google Instant Preview, this evaluation process is accelerated.  Users will be able to assess your top-ranked website without even leaving the search results page, and if it doesn’t impress them, they will be gone in the flick of a mouse.

Even if not every user adopts Instant Preview, you want your site to work well in preview form, in case Google’s claim that users are four times more likely to click on a previewed site turns out to be accurate.

Fortunately, the visual elements that will make your website successful in Google Instant Preview are commonsense good design anyway. Here are our recommendations:

  • Your website should be clearly laid out, neatly structured, and visually appealing. And, to succeed in previews, it must be uncluttered and have a minimum of distractions.
  • Avoid pop-ups – these may be picked up as the preview of your web page!
  • At least for now, avoid Flash animation. It currently appears in previews as a grey box with a puzzle piece in it. Google is trying to fix this problem, but it’s not clear how long it will take.
  • Design your pages so that the most important words are legible even in preview size. For service businesses, these would be your phone number, types of services offered, and the fact that you provide 24 hour emergency service.
  • Make sure that images don’t get distorted when they are shrunk to preview size.
  • Optimize your images so that they load quickly, or they will show up as gray boxes in preview format.
  • Your website should not have an intro page. We’ve advised our customers against them for years, but Instant Preview makes them a downright liability – intro pages are often in Flash, and they rarely deliver the usable content searchers want to see in previews.
  • Keep your pages to a reasonable length. If a page is too long, Google truncates it in preview, showing the cut by a jagged edge. This looks terrible. In particular, avoid really long footers (a staple of low-quality, old-fashioned SEO).
  • On the technical side, make sure that your website is properly programmed to attract Google search “crawlers” and guide them to the most important content, so that they can create preview snapshots that truly reflect what your website is about.

We recommend that you take a look at your website in Google Instant Preview to make sure that you’re ready to compete in this new format. If not, it’s time to rethink your site’s design.

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Google Instant Preview: Our Initial Assessment

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Google Instant Preview, which offers an instant snapshot of a website right from the search results page, is designed to help searchers make rapid assessments about the quality and relevancy of a website. It’s a new technology and the data is still coming in, but after reviewing the research, we have come to the following initial conclusions:

  1. There’s no guarantee that Google Instant Preview be widely adopted by searchers. Many searchers are not even aware that Instant Preview exists, and it seems to be confusing even to those who do know about it. And, preview features do not have a history of success in the search world. Ask.com had a similar preview feature back in 2004 that is no longer available today, and Microsoft’s Bing has offered a text preview feature since its inception. Bing and Ask.com have a combined market share of less than 15%. Clearly, previews have not so far been of much interest to searchers.
  2. If Instant Preview does take off as a technology, it may lead to an increased focus on organic search results. Instant Preview is available only for organic search listings, and Google has stated publicly that it has no plans to offer it for paid listings. If searchers do begin to use previews as part of their search process, they will likely focus on the organic results for which previews are available. To compound this effect, previews visually obscure the paid search ads, making it less likely that a searcher will see them. This, plus Google Instant’s tendency to push more search results below the fold, makes it extremely important for your business to have a dominant position in the organic search listings.
  3. Instant Preview may increase the quality of leads that come to your website, both through natural search results and paid listings. With Instant Preview, searchers can evaluate websites without even clicking (previews appear when users simply move their mouse over the magnifying glass icon). Preview users will probably “shop around” on the search engine results page, starting with the organic results, but then moving to the paid results if they don’t find what they’re looking for. This means that the searchers that do come to your website via previews are likely to be highly-qualified leads who have already selected you over your competition. Pay-per-click advertisers benefit too, because they will probably get fewer erroneous or frivolous clicks.
  4. Instant Preview may (somewhat) counteract Google Instant’s tendency to focus users’ attention on the top two or three results, because people will be able to preview all top ten search results quite easily. However, we think that scrolling is always a barrier and that top placement remains extremely important.
  5. Instant Preview may alter your website metrics. If your website is designed so that people can get the most important information about your company directly from the preview image, fewer visitors may click through to your website. Google doesn’t count an Instant Preview viewing as a click on your page, so your web analytics program may show a reduction in visitor numbers, even as the number of leads you get from your website stays the same or even increases.
  6. Top placement in the search results is important, but it isn’t enough anymore. Users will be able to quickly evaluate your #1-ranked website – and if it isn’t up to standard at the very first glance, they will go elsewhere.
  7. Good website design is more important than ever. You only have a brief moment to impress Preview users with the quality and relevance of your website. Also, you now need to make sure that users can get the most important information about your company directly from the preview.

Next week: How to design your site to work well in Google Instant Preview.

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Google Instant Preview: A Game-Changer? Or Maybe Not

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

As we discussed in last week’s blog, Google Instant has changed users’ visual experience of Google, making it more important than ever to dominate the organic local search listings.

This week, we’re going to explore another development in Google’s visual design: Google Instant Preview. Google Instant Preview, which is very different from Google Instant, gives users a thumbnail snapshot of your website right from the search page. The snapshot shows in miniature what a website site looks like, while text callouts show search terms in context, highlighted in orange. To view the snapshot, users click on a small blue magnifying glass to the right of each search result, and if they click on the snapshot, they go directly to the website itself.

Google Instant Preview has the potential to dramatically change the way users evaluate search results. Testing shows that searchers typically evaluate search results by looking for their search term in the title, URL (web address), and text snippet of each search result. Now, searchers will have the opportunity not only to look for words, but also visual images of the product or service they’re searching for.

In theory, the visual preview will enable users to evaluate search results more quickly and accurately, which means that searchers who come to your website after seeing it in Google Instant Preview are more likely to be qualified leads for your business. In its blogs, Google says that its initial testing indicates that searchers who use Google Instant Preview are four times more likely to click on a page they’ve previewed, and 5% more likely to be satisfied with the results they click.

But does Google Instant Preview work in practice?  Market testers rate Instant Preview a mixed success. They report that users often miss the magnifying glass icon because it is small and pale in color. If searchers do see the magnifying glass, they are unsure of how to use it. And, after searchers are shown by testers how to use Google Instant Preview, they tend to focus on the images in the snapshot to see if a website has the products they were looking for. They pay much less attention to the highlighted text in orange – some even call it a distraction.

We believe that these initial findings suggest the following:

  1. Not everyone will use Google Instant Preview. We believe that people who do not have sharp eyesight, or who are not tech-savvy, will ignore the functionality completely. Younger people will probably adopt the technology once they realize that it’s there, while seniors are unlikely to use it.
  2. It is more important than ever for a website to have a clear, uncluttered design in order to appeal to those searchers who do use Google Instant Preview.

Google Instant Preview may not change the search game completely, but it’s worth taking into account in your search strategy. In the upcoming weeks, we’ll talk about some of the possible implications of Instant Preview, and how to be sure that your website’s design is up to the challenges and opportunities Instant Preview offers.

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Why Google Instant Makes Local Search More Important Than Ever

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Google is known for its visual simplicity – a plain white homepage, with a simple logo and one search box in the center of the page.

But don’t confuse Google’s simplicity with simple-mindedness. Everything about Google’s visual presentation is carefully – even obsessively – designed.

In one famous anecdote reported in the New York Times business section, Google tested 41 different shades of blue to see which one made people click most on a particular toolbar. This isn’t as picky as it might seem – clicks are how Google earns its money, and Google gets them in such volume that even a tiny percentage change can make a major difference in revenue.

So, at first it seems surprising that the visual design of Google Instant* may be distracting users away from paid search ads, Google’s bread and butter. Some initial eye-tracking data (and this is backed up by our own anecdotal experience) suggest that users’ attention may focus more on the constantly-changing words just below the search box than on the paid ads to the right.

However, this may be a calculated sacrifice on Google’s part, because Google Instant guides people toward higher-volume, more expensive search terms. Google’s paid search ads may receive fewer overall clicks, but each click will be worth more to Google in advertising revenue.

The jury is still out until more data comes in, so stay tuned!

What is certain about Google Instant is that it pushes organic (unpaid) search results farther down the page. Searchers used to see links to four or five websites before having to scroll down for more, but now they see only three or so. (We use newspaper jargon to describe this – the search results you can see immediately are “above the fold”, while those that you have to scroll to see are “below the fold”.)

The implications of this change are obvious: it’s more important than ever to dominate the search results for the search terms that are relevant to your business. For service businesses, it’s especially vital to have strong placement in local search. Whenever a searcher types in a town or city name along with their search (i.e., “plumber Burlington VT”), the local search results will appear first – and now, they are often the only thing searchers see above the fold.
Fortunately, iMarket’s local search strategy is designed to do just that, and we encourage you to contact us to find out more.

Next week: Google Instant Preview: a game-changer?

*Google Instant is Google’s new auto-completion feature that offers suggestions for search terms based on the letters or words you’ve already entered – see our other blog posts on Google Instant for more information.

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Google Instant: The Rich Get Richer, But So Can You!

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Last week, we talked about Google Instant, and our belief that Google Instant is designed to increase Google’s revenues by guiding searchers and online marketers away from “long-tail” search terms and toward more popular, high-cost search terms.

It’s not only rich Google who will get richer in this scenario. Wealthy companies with big advertising budgets will be able to afford to compete for the high-volume search terms, edging out the little guys who can’t.

Except…

We don’t think Google Instant will significantly inflate the price of local search terms.

In fact, we believe that Google Instant will probably push more people toward local results, and that’s great news for contracting companies.

Searchers these days are pretty smart. If they want a plumber in their local area, chances are they won’t just type in “plumber”. They’re going to type in “plumber” plus the town or county or neighborhood they live in, or their zip code. For naïve searchers who don’t specify a location on their own, Google offers two important prompts to guide them to local results. The Local Search map appears, providing searchers with a visual guide for choosing a plumber close to them. Plus, now Google Instant will suggest search phrases that include the town where the searcher lives, i.e. “plumber burlington vt”.

Of course, this feature of Google Instant makes it important for local businesses to be competitive for the search terms that are most popular in their local area. But in most markets (and certainly in non-metropolitan markets) we don’t believe that Google Instant will lead to a huge increase in competitiveness and pricing for local search terms.

Here’s why:

  • There are only a few reasonable ways for people to search for services in their local area: by town, county, region, zip code.
  • There is a natural limitation on the number of people who want a given service in a given region, and this in turn leads to a natural limitation on the number of people who offer that service. Google Instant is not going to increase the number of people with broken pipes in Burlington, and it’s not going to increase the number of companies that offer plumbing services.

That means that in most local markets, the search terms that are being used, and the number of companies competing for them, are already established. Google Instant won’t do much to change them, which means that the price for local search terms won’t increase.

The only thing that Google Instant will change is the number of people who search for local results.

All this makes us at iMarket extremely confident that iMarket’s unique “town by town” strategy is the perfect way to take on the new challenges and opportunities offered by Google Instant. Our core philosophy has always been to make our clients’ online marketing as cost-effective as possible by bypassing the big-ticket search terms and focus on the local search terms that bring real leads to contracting businesses. Google Instant is going to funnel more people to the local search terms iMarket’s system is designed to dominate.

Yes, Google Instant does make Google richer. But if you’re a strong competitor for local search terms, it can make you richer, too.

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Google Instant: The Rich Get Richer?

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

In September, Google introduced “Google Instant”. You may have seen Google Instant in action already: now, when you type in a search term in Google, text pops up below the box where you’re typing, giving you suggestions for search terms that might be appropriate. The suggestions come from the most popular recent searches using the letters or words you’re typing.

You may also have noticed that as you’re typing, organic search engine listings and pay-per-click ads flash immediately onto the screen – only to be replaced instantly by different listings and ads if your search term changes significantly as you keep typing.

This is certainly a pleasant increase in response time, though Google was already pretty speedy and users’ lives are unlikely to change much as a result of the improvement. (As The Daily Mash noted sardonically, “the average user performs 12 searches a day, meaning they will soon have more than nine extra seconds to devote to work or leisure interests.”)

But speed is not the reason Google introduced Instant Search. While users do benefit a little from the convenience, the real advantage goes to Google.

Here’s why:

For the past several years, most well-designed SEO strategies have included what is known as “long tail search”. To understand what is meant by this, imagine the most common/popular search terms about a given subject being the head of a comet, while the more detailed, specific, or offbeat searches relating to the subject trail behind as a “long tail”. Long tail search has become increasingly important as people have become savvier about using search engines and have realized that longer, more descriptive searches yield better results.

Long tail search terms have been a good deal for online marketers. Leads from long tail searches are often highly motivated, meaning that a well-designed website will have a good shot at converting these leads into customers. And the lower popularity of individual long-tail search terms means that it is easier and cheaper to compete for top placement for each term, both in the organic results and the pay-per-click bidding. As a result, most current SEO strategies involve competing for and bidding on a wide array of affordable search terms, rather than spending money on big-ticket search terms.

Here’s an example of what we mean by “long tail” search: If you just type “mortgage” into Google, that’s a broad, generic search. You’ll notice that only large mortgage companies can afford to compete for this high-volume keyword. But many people get more specific, and search on “mortgage refinance” (still quite broad and expensive), “mortgage refinance Vermont” (getting more specific), “mortgage refinance Burlington Vermont”, or even “mortgage refinance no-doc loan Burlington Vermont”. This last is a classic long tail search: it’s really focused, it’s not that competitive (there are only a limited number of companies that offer no-doc loans in Burlington, VT), and it will probably deliver an incredibly motivated lead, because the searcher is clearly someone who has already thought quite a bit about the kind of mortgage they’re looking for.

The only one not to benefit much from long tail search is Google. Google isn’t that interested in having people bid and click on long-tail search terms that bring in maybe 10 cents a pop. Google wants to channel people toward the more popular terms that go for several dollars per click. In our view, this is what Google Instant is designed to do. Google Instant guides users to popular search terms, and steers them away from creating their own, long-tail, not-very-profitable-for-Google search phrases.

Voila! Instant increase in revenue for Google, as more expensive terms get more clicks. The rich get richer with Google Instant…but what happens to the rest of us out there in the online marketplace who have been relying on long-tail search? If you’re a service business, the news may be better than you think – and that’s what we’ll talk about next week.

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