The first half of 2009 has seen some pretty strong adjustments to search-engine technology. The introduction of a new engine that assists and assembles scientific data: A rebranding of Microsoft’s search product into Bing (see article), which bills itself as a "decision engine."

Yahoo held an entire event focused on how they’re leveraging their multiple search products to decipher user intent. Google has products in Google Labs with new presentation formats (and new ways to help them understand their users).

In addition, video and other media are showing up more frequently in search results. The "widgetized" Web is beginning to be reflected in search results.

It’s pretty clear that all the players in the search space are hard at work trying to understand their users, determine user intent, and deliver those users to sites that provide rich experiences.

My standard phrase when it comes to organic search marketing is that search engines are trying to trick you into making a Web site that people like. They’ve always been trying to make you do this, but now they’re just getting trickier.

Here are some things you might want to try, if you aren’t already:

Understand your analytics

Those who use number of visitors as an important metric for decision-making may be in for some sleepless nights. A search engine that is focusing hard on delivering visitors only to the most relevant sites may deliver fewer visitors to you. Your site probably isn’t relevant to everyone (I know, it’s a hard truth to take).

There are a few visitors to your site right now who quickly determine that you can’t help them. These people are reflected in your bounce rate. Then, there are those who take a little longer to determine you can’t help them. These are the people who are not counted in your conversion rate.

As search engines improve their ability to determine visitor intent, you should watch for changes in your conversion rate from search and in the total number of visitors from the engine.

Watch this trend in your conversion rate to determine how relevant you are to your site visitors. Increase your relevance with visitors via multiple media formats (like images and video) and carefully chosen outbound links.

  • Example 1: Your site visitors from search go down, but the number of conversions stays the same. Don’t worry, you probably are just losing visitors you couldn’t help anyway (check your bounce rate and engagement metrics trending to be sure).
  • Example 2: Your site visitors from search go down, and your conversions go down with it. Start worrying, sure. But then identify which search engines and terms that used to perform well for you are no longer performing. Make a plan to improve your relevance on those topics. Include solid outbound linking and better use of multiple media formats as a part of that plan. …CONTINUED

Examine your policy on outbound links

Some site owners have a policy of never linking to other Web sites. Usually cited as a reason is fear of "losing" page rank or actual visitors or both. Early reports on Bing say that the engine is using outbound links to place sites in context.

Google has long been aware of and responsive to concepts surrounding outbound linking.

When it comes to outbound linking you’ll be weighing two fears: fear of sending your visitors to other sites vs. fear of never getting those visitors in the first place. Make a good and useful site for your visitors. They’ll come back after visiting those relevant and useful outbound links you put on your site.

  • Example: If you practice real estate in a specific town or city, you might want to see that your site links out to relevant sites: your town’s government site; major media outlets for your town; public transportation; and schools. These are the basics and you probably won’t lose any actual customers, but you will help put your site in context for the search engines.

If a potential client from out-of-town calls and asks about your town, what sites would you recommend to them over the phone? These are the sites you should consider linking to from your own site.

Improve your use of visual media

Yahoo has stated that they are integrating what they are learning from all of their search products (this would include the search they have on Flickr). Google regularly positions video results on the first page of their engine. The search engines know that video and images provide engaging experiences for visitors.

Unfortunately, the engines don’t do a good job of understanding what an image is or what a video is about. You need to provide this information for them. You can do this via image description tags, providing image captions and/or using social content sites like Flickr and Yahoo and making good use of the tagging and description features.

Taking the pictures and making the video is a great first step. Getting serious about tagging images and video on your site is going to increase your relevance for search engines.

  • Example: If a client who was blind asked you to describe the photographs on your site, what would you say? That’s what goes in the image description. If a client who was deaf asked what was said in the video, what would you write? That’s what goes in the description of the video.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors. He will speak during a Bloggers Connect workshop at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7.


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