What Will We Do When Searchers Get Smarter?

Will our jobs, as SEOs, get harder as the average searcher gets smarter?

Typically speaking, people don’t really seem to get any smarter to me as time goes by. Sure, they may learn to do something more efficiently, but your average person is still a knucklehead who thinks that John Grisham is the new Shakespeare and there are gorillas running all over the place waging wars. And yes, I am using a bit of hyperbole here for the purpose of discussing what effect the “smartening up” of the searching public will truly have on how we do our jobs. I honestly don’t think that everyone is as moronic as I pretend to think, but I don’t feel like using a lot of qualifiers at the moment.

Speaking of qualifiers, that brings me to a few points about the future of search:

1. Searchers are beginning to FINALLY understand that qualifiers are useful in getting the most relevant results. This used to be something that SEOs did, mainly. It was an area of much exploitation as well, as I refuse to believe that I was the only SEO showing clients all the long-tailed phrases for which they ranked. Did these matter at all, in terms of anything OTHER than a ranking? Probably not, but there you go. At that point in my career, I had the belief that my job was to get the ranking, and the client was the one responsible for getting the conversion. I certainly do not think that way today, but this was years ago when I was young and needed the money.

Now, however, most searchers have used a search engine enough that they are a bit more comfortable with how to enter a query that gets them closer to what they’re after. Once you’ve entered enough generic queries and waded through hundreds of results to find your dancing cats sweatshirts, you’re going to realize that typing in “dancing cats sweatshirts” is much better than the simple “shirts” which, chances are, won’t have any relevant dancing cat sweatshirts too far up in the SERPs.

2. Long-tailed optimization isn’t as simple as we all think it is and it may not last as a decent SEO technique. As more cat lovers discover the joy of wearing dancing cats sweatshirts, they’re going to start wanting the matching sweatpants most likely, and a new market will open up that will initially have little competition. Our jobs will be easy at this point, as we succeed in bringing these truly insane cat people to our sites so that they can successfully tell the world how much they love a dancing cat. Then they’ll wear this hideously unstylish combination out in public, god help them, and someone’s going to want to imitate this look. Thus, more sites selling dancing cats sweatpants will go up, and competition will increase. See, this makes things a bit harder for us, all because of cat lovers with bad style.

Long-tailed optimization could easily be one of the easiest things to exploit in order to do well in the SERPs, so will we see Google, for example, making algorithmic changes in order to prevent yet another technique from working? I can’t imagine that they won’t try to stop this, honestly. No matter how relevant your qualifiers are, someone else is also going to be using them. How is Google going to feel about it when no one optimizes in order to do well with basic phrases? What will THOSE algorithmic changes do to the few remaining techniques that work? God only knows.

3. PPC prices aren’t going to come down anytime soon. PPC used to be fairly safe from major site-crushing changes, but now we have to think about more than whether or not we can afford to pay $.10 more per click for a keyword. We have to make sure our landing pages are relevant, which is definitely a good thing, and we have a lot more restrictions on what we can pay to advertise. It’s no longer a simple matter of buying your way to the top, and with Google’s insistence upon making sure that no one (other than themselves) controls any market, they’re going to be paying much closer attention to what goes on with how we all try and abuse paid ads.

We keep flipflopping between the view that most people won’t click on a paid listing and the view that people either don’t care if the listing is paid or they aren’t smart enough to notice. What if the general public DOES become more anti-paid listings? This could easily happen. People are sick of the corporate mentality…you don’t have to be a brainiac to get pissed off about someone using wealth to gain anything. If these people actually stop to think about a paid listing and what it means to get that spot, they could indeed decide not to click on it. As everyone becomes more educated about search, I don’t think that we can rely on cluelessness any longer.

So what does this mean? It means that there’s no danger of resting on your laurels any time soon, but that’s a good thing isn’t it? People may not get “smarter” so to speak, but they will become more educated on what we do in order to market to them. Just as we’ve seen the “Kill Your Television” bumper stickers and maybe even bought a copy of the magazine AdBusters, we will most likely start being witness to movements intended to break us of our internet habits. People do still watch television, but the popularity of systems that allow viewers to record and fast-forward through commercials has already cost television advertisers tons of money. If that kind of anti-marketing becomes ingrained in the minds of searchers, we could seriously be in trouble.

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4 Responses to “What Will We Do When Searchers Get Smarter?”

  1. Matt Davies says:

    “At that point in my career, I had the belief that my job was to get the ranking, and the client was the one responsible for getting the conversion. I certainly do not think that way today, but this was years ago when I was young and needed the money.”

    That’s an interesting point… where does your responsibility as an SEO stop and responsibility for issues such as usability and more traditional marketing methods (ensuring quality copy, for example) begin? I will personally do my best to advise a client on changes that they can make that *in my experience* could increase conversion, but I’d never take full responsibility for it because it’s not my field of expertise. How far would you go in taking responsibilty for this?

  2. I agree with Matt – especially if you don’t have the experience.

    As an in-house, I do have to take responsibility for other peoples copy and conversions on the site and usability simply because sometimes I’m the only one thinking about it. Sometimes :D

    But I enjoy doing it and love my job so… :) Shhhh…. don’t tell!

  3. Julie Joyce says:

    Matt…excellent point you raise there sir. I have the view that my responsibility lies in doing whatever I have authority to do, and advising on everything else that could potentially help or hurt.

  4. Rob Woods says:

    Hey, great information. Iím adding this link to our team reading list.

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