Do you search Google for your trophy keyword every morning to see if you're still on the first page? Do you check more than once a day? If so, you are a rankings junkie and it's time to shake the habit. Things have changed with the search engines to the point where rankings are no longer the best indicator of SEO success. Honestly, rankings have never been the best indicator of success, but this is becoming more and more important for marketers to understand. You should be focusing on how much traffic is coming from search, which keywords are driving that traffic, and most importantly, which keywords are driving sales.
The most recent twist in the search universe was Google's announcement this week of the launch of SearchWiki. SearchWiki gives registered Google users the opportunity to mess with the position of sites in the SERPs. Basically, it gives me as a searcher the opportunity to pick which site shows up in the top spot and get rid of all the crap that isn't relevant for any given search. Sound incredible? Don't get too excited, any changes I make will only be visible to me when I'm logged into my Google account. However, position adjustments and comments people make in SearchWiki can be viewed by other searchers if they click on the "See all notes for this SearchWiki" link at the bottom of the page. If this catches on, and isn't ruined by spammers, I expect SearchWiki to gradually gain more importance in what people see when they search. The first step will be to allow the option to let people's search results be influenced by friends' wiki changes, and then Google could start including aggregate wiki data as part of their search algorithm for the general public.
At the recent PubCon conference, representatives from all three major search engines spoke about how each is trying to offer more than "ten blue text links." What they mean by this is that rather than the traditional 10 text links to web pages when you search, they are starting to serve up other types of content that is relevant to your search query. We've been hearing about this trend for the past couple years, and it has gradually become more prominent in the search results--known as a Universal or Blended search. Any given search could yield results for images, video, shopping, blogs, local maps or news. Rather than just links to these other types of media, they are often embedded right in the search page. With this shift away from the standard "10 blue text links," it changes the paradigm of search engine optimization. While optimizing web pages is still important, if you aren't creating and optimizing a wide array of digital assets, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to get your brand in front of searchers.
Another major shift in the search engines that will continue to have a huge impact on search marketers is personalization of the search results. The search engines are starting to customize the search results for each individual searcher based on their search history, geographic location, or other demographic factors. This change makes it futile to focus on search engine rankings, because the ranking will vary depending on who's searching.
Mobile search is another important area to consider. The newest smart phones like the G1 and iPhone make mobile search look a lot like regular web search, but it is still a different experience searching the web from a mobile device. It's a much smaller screen, and people aren't usually searching for the same reasons they would search at the office or at home. Mobile search centers more around local search--it's about finding restaurant reviews, phone numbers, directions, stuff they need to know when they're on the go. Often, the default Google search from a mobile phone serves up search results that are localized to the searchers location. Search tools like Google's recently launched voice search application for the iPhone, and ChaCha, which has been around for a while, give people the option to speak their search queries, or even send them via SMS text messages.
What does all this mean? It means we need to rethink how we look at search engine optimization. We need to do all the little things to make our sites relevant for our keywords. We also need to think beyond our own websites and provide unique, valuable content in as many different formats as possible. Focus on being relevant to whatever and however people might search, and your traffic and sales numbers will tell you if you are hitting your target.