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The Personal Side of Search
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
I have said it a few times before, but the past year in Search was been one of great change. We saw the merger of Bing and Yahoo. We saw Google launch Caffeine allowing them to crawl the Web more quickly and effectively.  We have seen Google make ever increasing changes to their results pages.  More recently we have seen Google attempt to clean up web spam and low quality search results (although the verdict is still out on whether this has improved results or not) with their Panda algorithm update.  Search is continuing to evolve.

Gaining visibility via Search is no longer about links or meta tags.  It is more about engagement, quality content and clean architecture.  Most importantly it is about providing the information that searchers are looking for and being in the right time at the right place.  Gone are the days when a site can rank number one in Google for a given search query.  The days of placing in the top spot for a key phrase for an extended period are numbered.  Personalization of search results, social engagement signals such as "likes" or "re-tweets", and blended/universal results offering a richer experience have made the search results pages (SERPs) a dynamic jungle with ever increasing competition roaming around.  To add further difficulty is that engines such as Google are displaying multiple results (sometimes four, five, six or more) from the same domain.  So it is becoming increasingly difficult to climb into the prime real estate of a results page.  Organic search is really becoming a difficult means of driving traffic to your site.

We Are All at the Mercy of the Algorithms

Google's ranking algorithms contain hundreds of factors and Google tweak their algorithms as many as 400 or 500 times a year.  For those relying on traffic from natural search you need to know that we are all at the mercy of the all mighty algorithm.  Except that is if you are lucky enough to get on a whitelist.  If Google decides to place more weight on quality links and you do not have many, you can expect to kiss some of your traffic goodbye.  If Google decides to place more weighting on "quality" content and you have a lot of filler pages or duplicate content, there is a chance that you will lose rankings and as a result traffic.  The point is that for those optimizing for organic search results you are at the mercy of the algorithms.  Google has a lot of power, perhaps too much when it comes to online traffic potential.  However Google is not the only game in town.  To be successful in today's online universe, you cannot be entirely dependent on Google or even on Search.  There are other avenues such as social highways such as Facebook or Twitter where you can generate quality traffic and engage with your desired audience.  You just have to know what that audience is.

I titled this post the personal side of search because there are people, site owners and businesses that can have a personal connection with Search.  For the past eight years I have been employed as a search strategist.  I have been referred to as a "SEO" but I dislike being called an SEO.  I am much more than that.  My focus is not just on "search optimization" but on helping people find the information that they are looking... searching for.   I am well versed in usability and on developing and understanding personas and identifying opportunities to meet business objectives.  Yet this week I lost my job because of Search, more specifically because of a series of Google algorithm updates.  As a search strategist, I put myself in a position where I could not use my skills to get the changes required in place in order to deal with plunging organic search traffic numbers.  I simply ran out of time.

The largest asset that an organic search strategist can have is time.  It takes time for natural search progress to occur.   A large part of organic search is trial and error.  You can apply best practices for a dozen tactics and see little or no immediate return.  Then with the next major crawl of your site or with the next algorithm update you can obtain a great boost from a traffic perspective.  Time can be your biggest asset or your biggest foe when it comes to natural search.

Google's Panada update has had a dramatic impact on many site owners, webmasters and online marketers.  As I was reading all of the forums and hearing stories of site owners whose business' were on the verge of folding I thought to myself, wow how can one company (i.e. Google) have this dramatic of an impact on people with but a single algorithm update (although the update actually consisted of two updates)?  Reports suggest that the Google Panda update changes anywhere from 12-20% of all searches conducted on Google.  Even at 12%, this number is huge.  This shift, in part, caused me to lose my job.  Search became personal for me.

There is no question that Google is having issues, but they will sort themselves out.  There is a new era starting at Google, just as there is a new era in Search.  I have never seen my career as a search strategist as one where I was trying to manipulate the search engines or was trying to reverse engineer the algorithms.  If you have looked at Google's search results as of the past few months, you will see that the problem is with Google and their ability to deal with a larger index of web pages, their ability or lack-there-of to address real-time search and keep up with the increasing popularity of Facebook and Twitter.

I am fascinated by Search and understanding how people search for their information.  I personally use search to find information but lately it has been difficult to find the information that I am seeking, which is why I go to places such as Twitter or my bookmarked sites.  To me Search is a personal experience and for the past few months, trying to figure out where search is going has proven interesting.  It has been a tough year for Google and for searchers in general.  This week Search had a dramatic impact on myself.  Onward and upward....

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posted by Jody @ 9:12 PM  
  • At 1:55 AM, Anonymous traffic lawyers said…

    Well its a great article... i enjoyed with this article....

  • At 6:11 AM, Anonymous Nick Stamoulis said…

    Search has certainly evolved in many ways this past year. As you mentioned, the search engines can change their algorithms at any time. This is why it's important to have a diverse marketing and link building approach online so that one change doesn't make your site completely disappear.

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