This blog is dedicated to the in-depth review, analysis and discussion of technologies related to the search and discovery of information. This blog represents my views only and does not reflect those of my employer, IBM.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Content Is King!

I’ve been working with search engines and related technology for so long that I have forgotten that it’s the content being indexed that is King, not the search engine itself. That’s the message I got from reading Mike Moran’s excellent book on Search Engine Marketing, Inc. Mike reminds us that the search engine is a “means to an end” and if used effectively can help achieve the overall goals of the web site. And that’s what we often loose site of – the overall goals of the web site – be it to sell more products online, enlist more users in a grass roots campaign, or just familiarize customers with the latest promotions. It’s all about how the results produced by the search engine can achieve these conversions (a conversion is a sales term that refers to converting prospects into customers).

So in addition to presenting numerous Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques, Mike also encourages us to examine the content itself. Is the right landing page produced when specific keywords are entered? And if so, does the landing page itself lead to the desired action (e.g., pressing the buy button)? Producing the right landing page has everything to do with the search engine and Mike spends a lot of time discussing ways to accomplish this. But Mike also pays considerable attention to the content itself and how it should be organized to increase your conversion rate. What I also like about Mike’s book is his analytical approach to the problem. He provides plenty of metrics with which to quantify the success of your web site.

Too often, search marketing is treated as an art rather than a science – a set of arcane incantations that when repeated with fevor (and mixed with eye of newt and toe of frog) will somehow magically lead to success
.” – Mike Moran

Complementary to these analytical methods, Mike provides some very enlightening statistics. For example, did you know that 4 out of 5 users ignore the sponsored links (paid listings)? While it’s not surprisingly that almost all users review the top three results, do you know how they review those results? Thirty percent look at the title, 44% percent read the snippet or short summary, 21% look at the URL, and 5% look at the other information such as cached or similar pages. Another interesting statistic is that 7 out of 10 users will enter a new query rather than click to the next page of results (pretty amazing).

As a builder of search engines I found Mike’s book to be very useful even though his focus is on how to influence your presence within the free and popular internet search engines (e.g., Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask.com, etc…). Yes, most people use these search engines to find your company’s web site and this should be step one in your overall search marketing strategy. But once they have found your site you should consider (if you don’t already have) a search box of your own within your site. There are many premium search engines to choose from (IBM’s OmniFind to which I am partial) and these search engines can be tailored to the specific search needs and content of your company.

In my mind the most important reason for deploying your own search engine is the fact that you can change the various characteristics of the search engine. Google by contrast is immutable. You cannot change how Google ranks a page or how its search results are displayed. This is the premise behind Mike’s book which is to change what you do control - the content. But with your own search engine you can control both the content and the behavior of the search engine. You can control what content is searched, how it is displayed, and for some search engines (e.g., OmniFind) you can even change the ranking algorithm. So if you are also implementing a search engine within your organization, I think that Mike’s book will give you a different and valued perspective.

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