Why ranking tools need to evolve to keep up with search

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The way consumers search online has changed dramatically, but the ranking tools have yet to adapt to the search behavior of today’s consumer.

I have been involved in search since the early days of AltaVista and Overture. And as long as there has been a search engine results page (SERP), there has been a mechanism that monitored the results and positioning. However, although the way people search has changed dramatically since those early days, the ranking tools have not. They’re stuck on Google.

Yes, Google is the number one search engine. But today’s consumers are using more specialized search engines when looking for specific content and answers, to find a product, read reviews, watch tutorials, and the list goes on. In spite of this shift in search behavior, the tracking tools still all stop at the Google search box.

The new search box

Today, companies like Moz, AuthorityLabs and BrightEdge are generating millions in revenue by reporting on ranging on traditional engines like Google and Bing. But because consumers and the places they search have evolved so much, it’s time for our ranking tools to evolve, too.

Here’s why:

  • A lot of purchase-driven searches happen on ecommerce sites like Amazon and eBay, but this highly intentional search behavior extends way beyond ecommerce.
  • People go straight to video sites like YouTube and Vimeo to look for how-to, tutorial or product review videos.

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  • For breaking news, people are likely to go directly to national newspapers’ websites, news aggregators, and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
  • When consumers look to connect with brands, they no longer look for a phone number; rather, they search for them on social media.
  • When looking to use services like Uber, Airbnb or Mint, people search in an app store environment on their phones for the service and then install the corresponding app.
  • Even after the app is installed, consumers use their phones’ search functionality to find and use the app, instead of browsing for it. Keywords can be used to optimize for this type of discovery.

So what does this mean? It means that search has become the default form of discovery; it has become second nature and a treasured convenience for many users. (When Comcast released the ability to search for programming on the site, as opposed to scrolling through a never-ending guide, I was one of the happiest people on the planet).

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This specialized search also means that studios need to keyword-optimize the descriptions of their content.

Ranking tools – and brands – must evolve

If consumers use all of these search boxes to discover content and answers, and brands still have to fight for the top position, why aren’t the ranking tools adapting their models to support this new consumer behavior?

Take ranking on Amazon as an example. The primary navigation method on Amazon is keyword-based search. Based on our own and public research, a SKU listed on page 1 sells more units than a SKU on page 2. Since a SKU’s rank is based heavily on its product page content, it stands to reason that if brands monitor those rankings and optimize their SKUs, they can increase their sales on Amazon.

This is an opportunity for other platforms, as well as brands. Even those products or services that are dominating Google search must adapt to the new search paradigm.

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Similar to the example of rankings inside app store searches, this also goes for directories (such as Yelp) and industry-specific content creators (such as WebMD). People are looking for specific content and brands in search boxes; brands must ensure their content is ranking at the top of the search results there.

Long story short, it’s time for the ranking “industry” to evolve and provide rankings and performance reports beyond Google and Bing. The focus needs to be shifted to the ever-growing search volume on specialized search engines like YouTube and Amazon. The trend of people searching for information outside of traditional search engines will only continue to grow, so we need tools to support this growth and that will help us help our clients reach more consumers.

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