We don’t have to tell you search is important. You likely know that:
- Search behavior is growing dramatically with Google’s search volume up 30 percent last year alone (see Figure 1).
- Health information is the third most popular online activity after email and search engines.
- 80 percent of Internet users search for health information.
- Two-thirds of health information searches begin at a search engine.
Millions of consumers turn to search engines to research health topics and treatments. And where you rank matters. Search results in the top position get more than a 36 percent click through rate while falling below the fifth position leaves you with less than 4 percent click through (see Figure 2).
So it’s definitely worth the time and resources to create a search strategy, but in truth the search space is making this incredibly complicated. Search engines keep making changes to how they determine who ranks highest (and this alone has caused its share of indigestion). And you now have more challenges with search diffusion, search localization and search personalization.
#1 – Search Diffusion
Once upon a time, there were just a few places people went to find information online. Over time, that number has grown. So too has the burden of tracking and optimizing.
Many people don’t just go to Google or Bing. Without even thinking about it, they do different searches in different places, often with different results.
Let’s say, for example, you’re looking for a restaurant near your office – you search from your desktop computer and get results. You may also do that search from a mapping application such as Google maps which returns different information. Or you may search from Yelp, Foursquare, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, Zagat, Urbanspoon and a host of other websites or mobile apps. This is search diffusion.
The challenge here is the sheer management of all these sites, making sure the factual information (address and phone number for instance) is correct as well as the results that are returned.
#2 – Search Localization
Search engines are increasingly basing results on where you’re located. If you search for “hospital” at a computer in Chicago you’ll get different results than if you’re in New York. Also consider someone searching for dolphins in Miami (most likely looking for information on football) versus someone in Orlando (where they’re probably looking for, you know, dolphins).
With search localization, the information you seek is likely to be relevant regardless of if you’re traveling or in your own neighborhood. This reflects both paid search ads (which are typically targeted by geography) and organically returned results.
So suddenly, physical locality matters along with consumer ratings, the information on your website, and details in the search directory. Search localization leads to new tracking and management challenges – you now need to update and maintain Google+ Local and other pages in a variety of search platforms and social networks.
#3 – Search Personalization
Google and others have started personalizing your search results just for you. These search engines know a tremendous amount about you and use that knowledge to tailor information to your personal preferences.
The search engine you use regularly knows what you’ve searched for in the past. Watch as you type in the address bar of your favorite browser, it brings back a combination of past searches, past URLs you’ve visited, along with general search results for what you’ve entered thus far.
This isn’t all that the search giants know about you. Google incorporates the social network-like capabilities of Google+ into search results (Google insists that the year-old platform is not a social network ) and indicates that “social cues” play a role in search priority overall. Microsoft has recently been touting the social search capabilities available from its Bing platform when connected to your Facebook account. On top of that are a series of social search start-ups and discovery platforms, such as Yelp, OpenTable and Foursquare.
What this means is that even doing the traditional search engine basics well doesn’t guarantee individual searchers will find you. And as the lines between different platforms blur, you’ll need to be more thoughtful about how your social strategy supports your search strategy.
Looking to the Future
The search world has changed and will continue to do so. It’s become more important to the success of your online initiatives while, at the same time, become a lot more complex. To be successful, you need three things:
- A search engine marketing (SEM) strategy
- Time every day to monitor and manage your programs
- The energy and excitement about this discipline to keep up with the constant changes and updates happening in the space
I didn’t say they were three easy things.
To learn more about the changing world of search and how to tackle your SEM strategy, watch our webinar, Principles of Search Engine Marketing.