This is not your father’s search engine marketing

In 1999, I entered the SEO/SEM industry. The amount of changes since then has been staggering. The largest search engine today, Google, wasn’t even on the map.

A huge evolution has been the improvement in the relevancy of search results. There was a time when businesses would optimize pages for popular keyword phrases such as “Britney Spears” to gain traction in search engine results pages, regardless of whether there was a correlation between the keyword and the Web site. These Wild West tactics worked in enabling sites to rank well, but they failed in two key ways: They neither provided searchers with the information they needed, nor did they generate qual­ity visitors or credible new business opportunities. This was a problem for many early Web advertisers, as they were paying for traffic that was poorly qualified.

We have all witnessed how the search algorithms have greatly improved over the years. Relevancy is considerably higher and the number of companies that are somehow “beating the system” through black hat techniques is a fraction of what it was early on. With paid search, while click costs have risen dramatically, the opportunity to drive qualified visitors through targeted cam­paigns is impressive.

The most promising development of late has been Google’s roll-out of universal search. Universal search has revolutionized search results in a way that very few people really understand or are capitalizing upon today. In a May, 2007, press release, Google VP Marissa Mayer described it thusly: “The ultimate goal of universal search is to break down the silos of information thatexist on the Web and provide the very best answer every time a user enters a query. While we still have a long way to go, today’s announcements are a big step in that direction.”

From a searcher’s perspec­tive, universal search delivers a mixed batch of results on many keyword searches and the number of searches return­ing these multi-type results is growing. Instead of merely delivering text links to pages within sites, many keyword searches today are returning image and video results.

There are competitive advantages to be gained for marketers who understand the fundamentals of universal search and who are able to develop alternative content that is tagged properly and is recognized by the search engines. As marketers, we need to understand the new opportunities for gaining natural traction and utilize them to the fullest.

Andrew Wetzler is president of MoreVisibility. Reach him at [email protected].

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