Anticipating what future may bring can always be a risky business. In spite of these difficulties, businesses must work within predictable and potential boundaries that can generate good intuition for future. We humbly accept possibility of making erroneous assumptions and predictions while delineating what Human Level Communications anticipates for fast growing and highly competitive world of search engine marketing during 2005.
All against one, and one against all
The consolidation of search engines
2005 culminates an on-going search engine consolidation process that has left three indisputable star players: Google as number one, Yahoo! and MSN Search. These three search engines represent between 85% and 95% of all traffic that arrives at a website directed by a search engine or directory service, and their databases feed results to many other search engines and meta-engines. Meanwhile, giant Microsoft continues to fine-tune its own technology in form of a beta version of MSN Search.
These three leaders are expected to fiercely compete in areas listed below, significantly impacting search engine marketing strategies.
oQuality of Natural Results: only time and market will tell what search engine will be able to generate best natural results (i.e. non-sponsored). Google seems to have most experience in this area, while Yahoo! has developed its own website indexing algorithm. MSN Search, on other hand, has been crawling Web for well over a year to generate its own database for Microsoft.
oLocal Search: being able to use a search engine to find closest pizza restaurant to our current location introduces an important geographic segmentation challenge. Google and Yahoo! have already taken first steps towards solving this problem and MSN Search will follow suit very soon (as we were finishing this article, Microsoft launched a beta version).
oFree e-mail: Yahoo! Mail and MSN Hotmail used to share spotlight as being leaders in offering free e-mail accounts. Google then pulled from its sleeve GMail, a free e-mail account service with 1GB of storage that uses a contextual publicity mechanism based on automatic analysis of e-mail content. Yahoo! Mail has reacted rapidly raising their free e-mail storage quota to 250 MB and offering a new e-mail variety, Mail Plus, that for less than $20 a year doubles storage space offered by Google. Once again, Microsoft has fallen behind in this contest even though it has elevated its storage quota to 250MB. It will be interesting to follow MSN’s reaction to Google’s bold move.
oDesktop Search: Apple, once again, pioneered this concept and offered a solution in their Sherlock tool, which has been for some time a standard component of MacOS. However, Google Desktop has been first offering of such an application for Windows desktops and once again, Google has beat giant from Redmond in its own turf, perhaps anticipating that Microsoft could integrate MSN Search in their next release of Windows operating system, just like they did a while back with Explorer, critically wounding Netscape Navigator.
Optimize and re-optimize, it pays off
Google’s success has proven that users will utilize those search engines that are capable of generating results that present in their first page of results those websites that are most relevant to searching criteria provided. With this mission in mind, both webmasters and web positioning experts have tried to position their websites within highest ranking results for maximum number of categories, all to attract largest amount of traffic. The traditional bag of “tricks”, such as keyword saturation, hidden or invisible text, meta-tags saturation, link farms, mirror sites, continuous search engine registrations, etc., is a thing of past. The algorithms employed by modern search engines have been learning every new “trick” just as quickly as “experts” have been discovering and taking advantage of all weaknesses of web crawlers. This constant confrontation has spawned a mutual perfectionism. On one hand, searching algorithms are now harder to “trick” and they are able to progressively generate more pertinent results ordered in a hierarchy that users find more useful and efficient. On other hand, webmasters and Internet professionals have discovered that it is more important to correctly identify market niche being targeted, generate rich and high quality contents, provide frequent updates, use well structured and purified code, make site highly usable and accessible, rather than utilizing an absurd language simply to “satisfy” Googlebot, for example. In area of web optimization, immediate attention should be given to following points:
oCommon sense - How useful is it to appear first on a search if when users arrive at a page they find a repetitive and absurd language and an ill-formed and difficult to follow structure? Or, to put it in a different way, do we have a website designed to attract a lot of visitors or to attract a lot of clients? Appearing first on a search engine is similar to having your prospective clients lined outside your door. There is still a long way before those clients walk in, actually choose something and pay for it.
oProfessional involvement - The time for optimization “tricks” has passed. Today, task of optimizing a website belongs to experts. These are professionals capable of generating coherent navigational structures, suggesting meaningful language for search engines and natural for visitors, adding access links from important and reputable external websites, and providing advise beyond technical aspects to identify market niches for each website and those keywords that will generate maximum rate of conversion from visitors to clients.
oContents – The creation of original and high quality contents provides highest return on investment. Writing articles, participating as a moderator in forums or chat rooms, or developing e-books or newsletters will translate into a rapid surge of qualified traffic not only from potential customers, but also from providers, collaborators and possible partners.
oAccess links – A very effective way to direct traffic to our website is by including links to it inside other important and related websites. This is due to several reasons.
oAppearing as a recommended link inside important portals positions us as experts or leaders in our domain, not only in front of an audience of potential customers, but also in front of our competition.
oThose external links pointing to our website increase our Page Rank, a popularity index that Google uses to express importance of a website and one of parameters that it considers when is placing final search results.
oLinks from other websites generate more qualified traffic in a direct way, by users clicking on link itself, and indirectly, by users who click on Google because they obtained better rankings due to popularity of our website.