SEO &  Branding

2008 The Year In Search

Actually a lot went on in 2008 as far as innovations on the world of search. One big disappointment was the anticlimactic Cuil. Reported to be the Google Killer with the very latest in Search Engine Technology. Unless you’re in Search Marketing you probably don’t even know what I’m talking about which in itself is the measure of it’s success.

Unfortunately with the current economy I look for Search Engines to be more inventive in creating ways to promote themselves rather than improving the quality of the search experience. This means more self serving garbage before the actual search results. But the good news is that there are always new college students working on the next pure search engine hoping to be the next billionaires. Someday the giant killer will appear.

As far as the big three go, Yahoo is still here, MSN seems to be content with the smallest share of the market and Google still leads with the lions share despite the blunder of adding it’s own self serving “shopping results” into results. The stock price is down and with the economy I have seen a drop in Google Adwords advertisers in many verticals.

What does it all mean?

Since MSN is the default Search Engine for Windows users you really have to wonder if they actually get even a five percent share of the search market if you knock off the searches performed looking for Yahoo or Google. At one time they looked ready to make a play for a bigger share. Right now you have to wonder where their attention is focused. It is obviously Not on their Search division.

Yahoo has made a few tweaks in their algorithm which has improved their results. But if they had done so a few years ago you wouldn’t know what Google was. Too little, too late. Somebody needs to tell Jerry. He’s still grinning like, well, like a yahoo. Still, you have to give some street credit for survival. The stock holders were hoping the grin was evidence of a plan. I've seen babies make that face and people say, "Look it's smiling." Let's hope he's not just filling his drawers. If they make it through 2009, it will require some innovative purpose. Other wise look for the stock value to plummet and many pitchforks and torches will attend the next shareholders meeting.

Economy Scramble

This is really more common sense than crystal ball, but as the consumer spends less there will be an brief increase in the Cost Per Click bid as Pay Par Click advertisers attempt to get a boost in business. Brief, because without spending by consumers, the advertisers will drop like flies. It is a natural reaction in business. New advertisers will start bidding, but at a lower price and replace the front runners that drop off.

Search Optimizers that provide Organic Search Results will be getting a lot more business. As more and more businesses get the point that it is better to be seen all day every day rather than only when you pay to be seen. Look for good SEO to be in demand and short supply. The tough part for business will be to decide faster who can deliver, the guys that promise position overnight or the True SEO Pro.

Organic Search Results are not Pay Per Click, but they aren’t exactly free either. Providing great ranking and visibility takes diligent work in development, implementation, design, strategy and commitment. When an algorithm with over two hundred individual equations, each maintained and adjusted separately for value and importance by separate teams, no five step process or magic program code is going to fool the search results. SEO is an investment however it has a far better option than Pay Per Click.

One long time trend in business has been to operate on the banks money. The Business of Business Banking has been drying up. As the loans are harder to get just to stay in operation there will be a sudden realization that in order to stay visible to potential customers, a business will have to be promoted in less traditional fashion. No more throwing cash at large media campaigns and Pay Per Click advertising. The cost will just prove out of reach for every business that are focusing hard on the Return On Investment (ROI).

In the past I have had to explain how some large online business was being run year after year without making a profit. Time and the economy have changed and now running on other peoples money (bankers or investors) without showing you are actually making a profit is not going to be tolerated.

Good news for SEO. Since trackable progress can be shown when a starting point is established, a plan of attack formed and elements of the plan are implemented. One thing will determine if an individual business will be able to benefit from what SEO can do. How fast what the SEO determines needs to be done is put in action.

If you’re a small business reading this, this is where you can really win in the coming year. The one thing that really stands in the way of big business is that it moves incredibly slowly. Painfully slowly. Small business has fewer people that are busy trying to justify their own importance to the business.
If you work for a big business, it really becomes simple, streamline the process of change or go the way of the dinosaur. The more departments you have to go through to implement change in your industry, the more likely you will be closing your doors this year.

One of the developments in search that have begun to see some focused benefit this past year have been “Local Search.”

If you are traditional business with a physical location that you promote online then this is for you. Say a dentist or lawyer wants to be found in his geographical area, this kind of search will be helpful for you if you optimize your site for it. If you have fixed locations in several cities and only one website, it won’t be much help. If you sell to the world it will be one more thing you have to overcome to be seen globally.

This harkens back to the day of the local phonebook. Back in the day when you knew where you kept your phone book, it was important for every business that wanted you to find them to be listed there. Local Search is like that. If your business is localized this will be something that can be acted on. As more users look up information on their mobile devices, this will be really big and include directions right to your front door.

When times get tough, there are opportunities through change.

Google is already admitting that revenue is down. Look for them to keep trying to develop ways to finance their own innovations. Not any big surprise, just that it takes money to maintain market share in a world where every person with a website wants to push theirs to the top of your results by any means.

Yahoo is still grinning but nobody knows why. They announce product innovations but most of their high level executives are standing close to the lifeboats. The investors are going to want more before the next meeting.

MSN is around for the long haul but maybe not as a search engine. I saw Bill Gates in an interview years ago. The interviewer was commenting on Mr. Gates staggering estimated worth. Bill explained that estimated worth does not buy groceries. He was aware years ago that all that was estimated could go away. Smart. Love it or hate it, Microsoft is big business. They make changes. They actually do innovate. They treat business like business. Programming and computing are the biggest part of MSN. If search works for MSN it will continue to pursue a share of the market.

College students are still thinking. Maybe the coming year will produce a solid competitor in the search world. Cuil was on the right track. In order to have an instant appeal intense enough to get noticed there will have to be more visual appeal. More pictures, but not jumping out at viewers. Colors that pop but not hurt. Easy, intuitive but not pushy. Focus on the pure search results and not on how you’re going to leverage money from every vertical. Advertising dollars will come, once you establish a market share. The opportunity is there.

This will be the year of online marketing. However as the traditional advertising becomes too costly for most business, Search Engine Optimization that can get business more consistent exposure for less will be in high demand.

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