Strategic Web Usability

Search Is Changing. Are You?

Man PanickingThere have been a lot of changes in search over the past couple of years, and I'm starting to see the same reaction from clients and many search marketers: panic. I do fundamentally believe that search, and SEO along with it, is going through a major evolution, but does that mean you should drop everything and become an expert in local search, mobile search, social networking, Mozilla Ubiquity, Google Chrome, and every new development that comes your way? In a word, no. So, from a business perspective, what should you be paying attention to, and when should you start worrying?

When You Should Worry

Whether or not you rush to embrace any new search technology depends on your niche and the customer base you serve, much like any technology or business decision. Here are a few scenarios where I think you need to start adapting to changes in SEO right away:

You're A Local Business
Google Maps and the OneBox have changed the local search market dramatically, and advances in mobile search have only accelerated those changes. If you or your client is a local business, you need to understand how local SEO is changing, and you need to do it now. A number of firms and SEO consultants have already starting specializing in local search.

Your Customers Are Mobile
We've heard for a few years now about how mobile phones would change search and e-commerce - that prediction has taken a while to come true, but I think the revolution is finally coming. If your customers are mobile search users or your product/service is a good fit for the mobile market, it's time to start evaluating the costs and benefits.

Competitors Are Early Adopters
If your client's competitors have deep pockets or are typically early adopters of new technology, you may have little choice but to follow them, or risk losing out on new sources of traffic. Worse yet, if your clients discover that new technology is hurting them before you do, and you aren't familiar enough with it to advise them, you may just lose those clients.

Customers Are Early Adopters
If you serve a tech-savvy niche or your customers are early adopters within a particular space, such as the mobile web or social networking, you need to pay attention to what they want. Of course, listening to your customers is always good business, but it's better to let your users drive the technology than to force technology on them just because you can.

When You Should Wait

On the flip-side, there are times when you should be very careful about rushing into any new technology and overreacting to industry developments. Here are a few of those times:

Financial Risks Are High
This one is pretty obvious, but businesses still forget it all the time. If jumping into a new area of search (such as mobile applications) is going to be expensive, look before you leap. Don't let the allure of an untested technology or potential traffic source make you throw away your money.

Customer Loyalty Is High
As the saying goes: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Some sites have fiercely loyal customers, which is great, but those customers can be resistant to change, especially if it disrupts their normal way of doings things. If you explore new ways of getting customers to find you, make sure you don't alienate your existing users.

Cannibalization Risks Are High
The newspaper industry is a great example of this: every time they explore a new technology, as inevitable as it seems, they risk destroying their traditional income base. Attracting visitors to a new medium may mean pulling them away from an old medium and possibly cannibalizing your existing business. That doesn't mean you shouldn't explore new avenues for traffic, but it does mean you'll need to proceed with caution.

But Why Wait?

Even if your industry isn't a perfect fit for one of the new search technologies, if the risks are low, why wait? Being an early adopter and creating a new source of traffic and visitors may very likely turn out to be a competitive advantage, and customers that start to identify you with a particular technology could become loyal brand builders. Of course, always weigh the costs and benefits, but all of these changes present a great opportunity for opening new markets and new revenue streams.

Adam

 · Tuesday, September 23
The biggest boom on the Internet is still going on as the other 70%- 80% of businesses (mostly local gigs) begin to create their first Websites. It's simply too important to ignore anymore.

Any serious SEO firm would do well to keep up with Local if they service any Small/Medium sized businesses.

~A

Dr. Pete

 · Tuesday, September 23
@Adam - That's a great point; for all of our obsessing over new technology, many small businesses either still aren't on the web or are on their first, badly-outdated website. The technology gap is widening in e-commerce every day.

paisley

 · Tuesday, September 23
Being the Dir. of Internet Marketing @ a reasonably sized PR Firm/Ad Agency. SOMEONE (in our case, it's me), should know what's going on BEFORE the client does.

MikeTek

 · Tuesday, September 23
I can definitely vouch for Adam's point as well. I come across websites every day that are simply horrible. It's always a bit of a relief, actually, because it's obvious that there are millions of websites out there that have to be rebuilt from the ground up. Job security.

SEO has never been static. It's changed, and changed quickly, almost constantly over the last five years. It's all we can do to stay well-read on the latest developments and try our damndest to stay ahead, or at least not too far behind, the curve.

Dr. Pete

 · Tuesday, September 23
@Mike - I think we all need to remember that our industry is barely a decade old and most people have used the internet for less than that. It's funny how quickly we adapt and become set in our ways, but this is a very young and evolving field, and change is the rule at this point, not the exception.

MikeTek

 · Tuesday, September 23
@Dr. Pete - I agree absolutely. I spent two hours today walking a client through Google Analytics 101. I heard "wow, that's great" at least a dozen times. To me, Google Analytics is old hat. To the client, it was like magic. It's deceiving to communicate regularly with internet professionals - you can forget, for short periods of time, that most people have no idea how it all works.

Internet Marketing Joy

 · Wednesday, September 24
In doing business, we should always make sure that we are keeping up with the trends so that we won't be left out..^^

Make Money On The Internet

 · Wednesday, October 8
Yes.. thats right... Search Algorithms are changing.. now a days even dynamic Urls are cached by search engines..

James Bull

 · Thursday, October 9
@Dr Pete and @MikeTek - agree with you that the web (and in fact the web industry too) remains a mystery for most people.

The other thing that we tend to forget is that for most people, most of the time, using the web isn't fun, exciting or even particularly enjoyable.

I'm willing to bet that fragmentation and specialisation in Search (which from our clients' perspective means "Being Found") will end up being yet another reason for ordinary business people to feel burnt off by the web.

Dr. Pete

 · Thursday, October 9
@James - That's a great point: as worried as we professionals are about so many changes happening so quickly, small and medium-sized business owners, many of whom are still struggling to understand the basics, are finding themselves completely overwhelmed. Progress is great, all things being equal, but at some point people have to be able to catch up to it.

Marble Host

 · Thursday, January 8
Hello,

Good post. Just shows why it's so important to stay at the top of your game in SEO, its a job which never remains static.....forever learning or adapting :-)

Not sure when Google cleaned up the index in relation to duplicate content and sites....I know of a few sites that enjoyed multiple listings for a period of time with duplicate content on multiple domains, of which the site/s got banned early/mid 07

Ive heard and would somewhat agree it's no longer about rankings anymore for 2009 with personalised results (being able to vote up sites and clear sites from your google results when logged in).

http://www.marblehost.com

Web Hosting Jack

 · Monday, March 30
I use G local search a lot for my clients.
Google local search is really imp. if you a good potential in local market.
I see most of the sellers forget the power of google local search and spend most of the time general rankings on google.
Optimizing for local search can be fast and can gives results in notime.

Preinstalled scripts

 · Tuesday, May 5
Well, Seo will give to a new form of digital asset management and optimization. This new SEO will place a much larger emphasis on optimizing a range file types, from pdfs to images to audio/visual. More efforts will be placed on feeds to search engines. Not just XML feeds into paid inclusion and shopping comparison , but also feeds with other types of information such as local, financial, news and other verticals. Mobile will become much more popular, search will gradually become more of a personalized experience. Marketing into networks will see huge growth, and social search will grow with it.
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