When I ask online and direct
marketers what they believe the definition
of search engine optimization (SEO) is,
in its simplest terms, they automatically
say, “Making a site #1 in Google.”
I understand this common perception. Because,
classically, search engine optimization
has been defined as designing, writing,
programming, and coding (in XHTML) an
entire Web site to maximize the chance
that Web pages will appear at the top
of search engine listings for targeted
In other words, SEO is commonly interpreted
as optimizing a Web site for search engines.
Is this an accurate perception of SEO?
I don’t believe it is.
In reality, search engine optimization
is not optimizing a Web site for search
engines. SEO is actually optimizing a
Web site for people who use search engines.
SEO professionals should understand how
search engines work. And they should understand
Web searchers – their goals, how
they achieve their goals, and their motivations.
As many direct
marketers know, it is all too easy to
oversimplify a process. Many direct marketing
techniques have evolved and refined over
many years, long before the Web came into
existence. The same holds true for search
marketing. People believe that understanding
searcher behavior is simple and straightforward.
When, in fact, searcher behavior is rather
The logic seems to go like this:
- Web searcher types keywords in a
- He quickly scans search engine results
pages (SERP) for most desired information.
- Clicks a link in the search listing
- Lands on a page containing desired
- Makes a purchase.
Even if site visitors
do not make an immediate purchase, the
site has a positive brand impact. A Web
page cannot possible be of “poor
quality” if it achieves a top-10
search engine position, right?
I wish searcher behavior were that simple.
A positive brand impact can be reinforced
or disappear with only one click. In fact,
transactional queries are the least common
type of search engine query. Additionally,
“transactional” does not necessarily
mean that a person wishes to make a purchase.
Transactional queries are ones in which
searchers want to perform some sort of
activity, such as watching a video or
downloading software. Buying is only one
type of transactional goal. Therefore,
buying behavior, via Web search, is far
less common than one might imagine.
are the most common type of search engine
query. When a Web searcher performs an
informational query, he wants to read
more information about a topic. Many informational
queries lead to transactions. Web searchers
are not going to hand over personal information
(name, address, credit card numbers, etc.)
until they are sure a Web business is
credible and secure. One page view will
not establish that credibility.
Likewise, online shoppers compare prices,
sizes, and availability. A single page
view will not allow Web searchers to easily
accomplish these informational goals.
Therefore, the search engine spin doctors
label this informational-transactional
searcher behavior as showing commercial
Furthermore, Web searchers re-find desired
content all of the time. And they use
the commercial Web search engines to go
to specific sites that contain their desired
content. This type of searcher behavior,
where a searcher desires to go to a specific
Web site, is called navigational behavior,
because searchers are using a Web search
engine to navigate to a specific Web site.
Some of my search engine colleagues have
told me that navigational queries are
far more common than people might imagine
– somewhere between 26% and 33%
of all search queries.
Informational queries are the most common
type of search engine query. Navigational
queries come in a close second. Transactional
queries are the least common type of query,
and buying is only a small percentage
of transactional queries. So why do many
SEO professionals and direct marketers
dismiss the most common search behaviors?
Maybe they are focusing so hard on optimizing
for search engines only, and on achieving
the elusive #1 position, that they forget
about the very people who are going to
make the final purchases – Web searchers.
Search Does Not
Only Mean Query
Many marketing professionals and people
in general consider the word "search"
to mean only querying behavior. Unfortunately,
point of view is very narrow minded because
Web searching involves a wide variety
of different behaviors, not only typing
keywords into a Web search engine and
clicking on the “Search” button.
Web searchers perform
many different search tasks that evolve
over time. After a Web searcher types
in a keywords into the search box and
clicks “Search”, he will either
read or scan search results to see which
listings best match the query. Or he will
just click on the first listing as a frame
of reference for future queries. If the
search results, and the frame of reference,
are unsatisfactory, the Web searcher might
refine the keyword phrases. Then, he will
either read or scan more search listings.
Browsing the landing
page and other pages on the Web site for
further information is also common. What
is the searcher doing after he clicks
on a link in a search listing? He is probably
not landing on a site’s home page.
He is landing on a page in the middle
of a Web site. So within one second, he
must orient himself – see if he
landed on the right Web site and the right
Web page. Furthermore, Web searchers often
pogo-stick between search results pages
and Web sites to find the best answer
to their questions.
Look at all of
the search behaviors I just mentioned:
querying, scanning, reading, refining,
orienting, browsing, and pogo-sticking.
Do online marketing professionals, including
search engine optimizers, even consider
accommodating Web sites for all types
of search behavior?
As long as SEO professionals continue
to obsess over positioning, they will
continue to produce Web sites that are
built for search engines only, not the
very people who will buy products and
services. Web search behavior should be
a key component of any search engine optimization
campaign. Is it a part of yours?