The launch of Google universal search in May 2007 improved user experience, offering intuitive alternatives to standard Web results. The real intent of the searcher was more closely met, and universal search helped those who didn't have optimized Web sites. But in the SEO (define) world, traffic acquisition became tougher, since CTR on the results pages fell - all the SEOs were thinking, how do we benefit from this?
December 2009 saw the launch of personalized search for both signed-in and signed-out users. Another factor was added to the ranking pool: user CTR. A site's fate, instead of depending purely on relevance, now depended on relevance as well as CTR. Basically, Google changed rankings for individual users based on their click preferences. The underlying effect, as Rand Fishkin wrote in one of his blogs, is that "the rich get (even) richer." As an example, when buying a carton of milk from your neighborhood grocery chain, you walk to aisle six and pick up the same brand of milk. With personalized search, you wouldn't need to walk to aisle six every time. Your brand of milk will be waiting for you at the checkout counter. The effect? The other milk brands wouldn't even have a shot at getting a piece of your monthly grocery spend. Similarly, Web sites that are ranking on page two will see a reduced CTR.
Although Google's real-time search inclusions are arguably premature, it's yet another instance of a move by Google that has made traffic acquisition a little harder for Web sites. Real-time search essentially adds live updates from sites like Twitter and FriendFeed, along with headlines from blogs and news sites. Result: Another addition to the SERP that's vying for a piece of that traffic. Real-time inclusions, once perfected, will give rise to a whole new SMO (social media optimization) meets SEO world. Given these changes, it has become imperative for SEOs to think outside the box and improvise.
As Google and Bing innovate, the SEO landscape will change at a fast pace. The last two years have seen more changes to the marketplace than the previous six years combined. It's now paramount to get in early, test, analyze, and make proactive changes that lead to profitable results.
This column originally appeared in the March 2010 edition of SES Magazine.
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Prashant Puri is head of global SEO for Shopping.com (an eBay Inc Company). He is responsible for SEO for sites that run across five countries. He has more than eight years of online marketing experience, including stints at Yahoo and AT&T. He's built numerous sites into multimillion unique visitor sites through a combination of SEO and SEM.
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