Time to see beyond SEO for Google

The way Web search trends are heading, businesses should have a marketing strategy that does not only look at improving a site's rank on Google.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Businesses looking to grow their Web site traffic should probably start thinking about a long-term strategy that goes beyond Google search engine optimization (SEO) tactics.

According to Zia Zaman, executive vice president of global marketing of Norwegian company Fast Search & Transfer, there is a growing trend of companies hiring SEO consultants to achieve higher search engine rankings.

However, this tactic of increasing a Web site's chances of getting listed among the top few entries of a relevant search result is "shortsighted", and may not result in a big payoff that one might hope, Zaman said.

He explained that a company focusing on SEO is reliant on a search engine's algorithm which is often kept secret. An SEO consultant has to continually adapt to the search engine's algorithm changes which may neither be announced nor easily understood.

It seems the industry is starting to move beyond optimizing a site for leading search engines like Google which recently altered its PageRank algorithm, affecting several high-profile sites.

"Search has grown up," Zaman said, noting that the three big search giants--Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's Live.com--only get 30 percent of clicks. "The rest of the 70 percent are going to local, vertical or topical sites. Sites which have targeted content.

"People realize that sticking to these [targeted] sites gets them to the end points much sooner, rather than throwing up a generic search in Google and getting hundreds and thousands of links to click. These sites already narrow down the information, specific to what the user's looking for," said Zaman, in an interview with ZDNet Asia.

Shi Heng Cheong, a Singapore-based SEO consultant and blogger agrees and sees this fast-evolving Web search market adding complexities to an SEO consultant's job.

Shi said: "The challenge [for an SEO consultant] will be greater, as it will no longer be the simple correction of mistakes made by Web masters, designers and programmers. In addition to fixing broken Web sites, SEO consultants will need to help businesses be found not only in Google and Yahoo, but also in Web 2.0 sites such as Amazon, eBay, Facebook, MySpace, PRweb, StumbleUpon, Technorati, and YouTube.

"These will be the sites where the target customers will be congregating," he added.

Beyond SEO
But SEO is only half the battle, because beyond attracting clicks, retaining an audience is more important, said John Brand, research director of Hydrasight, in an e-mail interview.

"While [SEO] might [help] organizations find new customers, it rarely has much influence in retaining existing ones. This is where the quality of user experience in the site itself--and the customers' overall experience of the company--comes firmly into play," said Brand.

Fellow Hydrasight analyst Tim O'Brien added that companies need to first ensure a Web site is well-designed before thinking about hiring an SEO consultant.

"It is commonplace for corporations to waste large sums of money on SEO, and in particular, pay-per-click search engine advertising, only for visitors to abandon the Web site upon arrival because it is too hard to understand or navigate," said O'Brien.

As a matter of best practice, SEO should be worked into the development of a Web site from the start, O'Brien added.

"SEO should also be about designing Web pages so that their content can be easily indexed and categorized by the major search engine algorithms. The key is to ensure that the page title and various meta tags accurately reflect the specific content on the page. It is that simple.

"There is simply no point in trying to trick the search engines into believing the page is about something it is not," O'Brien said.

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