Natural Search Blog


Where’s the Google search result?

I had a client ask me the other day where his traffic was coming from, since he couldn’t find his listing in the top few pages of search results for a keyword that was showing up in his analytics reports. The analytics system had reported that he’d received a number of visits from users who’d searched for “Keyword X” in Google and had clicked through to his site. Problem is, when he went and searched for “Keyword X”, he didn’t see any of his pages listed in the first dozen or so pages of results in Google, and he figured it’d be unlikely that a number of users would click very many pages deep anyway.

So, how did this traffic happen?

This isn’t the only time I’ve seen something like this happen. Probably a number of people have had the experience of calling up a partner or colleague to talk about something they see in the Google search results, only to find that the person at the other end of the phone sees a very different thing when they commit the same search in Google. The listing could be shown 9 places down from the top of the page instead of 2 places down, or it isn’t showing up at all for them while it’s showing plain as day for you.

Unfortunately, this is going to become a more and more common experience for webmasters. Google’s diversity of search products and results sets are becoming more and more differentiated for different users, and as this happens, people searching for the very same keyword are going to be seeing completely different search results. Read on for more details.

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New Research Could Improve Google Image Search

New research recently published out of University of California├é┬á– San Diego could allow Google’s Image Search to easily begin using elements from “true image search” — that is, the ability for software to detect and identify elements appearing within the image itself rather than just relying upon external text metadata to associate keywords with the images. Read on for more details.

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Google Book Search: Not a Threat to Publishing

It’s not surprising that large chunks of the book publishing industry have gotten up in arms ever since Google announced its intentions to scan the world’s books and make them available online for free. After all, the publishing industry is not really known for adopting modern practices all that quickly. Book publishing is a grand old industry, and top publishing houses seem more invested in preserving the status quo than in adapting for the changing world.

book search illustration

But, when the publishing industry got up in arms against Google’s plans to facilitate the searching of books, their knee-jerk reaction against the new paradigm caused them to miss the fact that Google’s basic proposal really isn’t all that revolutionary. There’s another institution that has taken published books and made them available to the public. For Free. For thousands of years. Libraries!

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Can you believe Google’s estimated number of search results?

I’ve never had much faith in Google’s estimated number of results (and for good reason). Every so often I run queries that I know will return a huge results set and I note the number of pages found, such as for “the” or “http”. The number of results just get bigger and bigger, like the length of the preverbial “fish that got away” with each telling of the tale! Continue reading…

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New eyetracking study: where Google searchers look and click

aggregate mapI found the eyetracking study from Enquiro and Did-It unveiled last week at Search Engine Strategies and covered in Search Day fascinating. The aggregate heat map shown on the right (larger version here) shows where participants focused their eyes (and their attention) the most. As you can see, the first listing not only drew the most attention; the full listing was read more fully from left to right, than other listings.

Visibility drops the further down the search results you go, and clickthroughs drop even more markedly (as you can see from the graphs below). This got me thinking about Zipf’s Law. Zipf’s Law is applicable to Top Ten Lists, as Seth Godin explains, perhaps Zipf’s Law might be applicable to the SERPs (search engine results pages) too? (In general terms, Zipf’s Law states that being #1 is much, much better than being #2 which is much, much better than being #3 and so on. So dominating a Top 10 list is critical.) Although these graphs don’t follow Zipf’s Law exactly, nonetheless given this data I’d consider it foolish to be complacent if your search listings are not at the very top of the SERPs.

What is it about searchers that makes them so blind to relevant results further down the page? Is this due to the “implied endorsement” effect, where searchers tend to simply trust Google to point them to the right thing? Or is it just the way humans are wired, to make snap decisions, as Malcolm Gladwell insightfully explains in his new book, Blink? According to the study, 72% of searchers click on the first link of interest, whereas 25.5% read all listings first, then decide. My guess is that both effects (“implied endorsement” and “rapid cognition”) play a role in searcher behavior.

A few other important take-aways from the study:

  1. 6/7 (85%) of searchers click on natural (“organic”) results (not 60/40 as the search engines and PPC (pay-per-click) vendors would have you believe).
  2. The top 4 sponsored slots are equivalent in views to being ranked at #7 – #10 natural.
  3. (corollary to #2): This means if you need to make a business case for natural search, then (assuming you can attain at least #3 rank in natural for the same keywords you bid on) natural search could be worth two to three times your PPC results.

In all, a superb research study. Great job Did-It, Enquiro, and EyeTools!

line graph of visibility
line graph of clickthroughs

Become.com shopping search engine coming into its own

Become.com is a pretty cool little new shopping search engine, specializing in product reviews and other info for the research-oriented consumer. Its index is now up to 2.2 billion pages in size, all of it taken from shopping-related web sites in the US. It’s in public beta now, so give it a whirl. You’ll need to register as a beta user before you can start using it. www.become.com

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What would you ask the leading SEO gurus?

We’ve got a great line-up for the upcoming Thought Leaders Summit on search engine optimization that I’m organizing for MarketingProfs.com: Mike Grehan, Barry Lloyd, Jill Whalen, Christine Churchill, Ammon Johns, Eric Ward, Ian McAnerin, Cam Balzer, Alan Rimm-Kaufman, and Brian Klais.

I’m working up a list of questions to send to our panelists in advance. Here are some questions that initially came to mind for me:

What would you, dear reader, add to this list, if you could pose any SEO-related question to this illustrious panel?

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Google Desktop: Total Search Recall

Google Desktop Search gives customers “Total Search Recall” capabilities – altering search engine optimization as we know it

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Google Scholar – a new search engine for us eggheads

Google has just launched a new search engine called Google Scholar. It’s an engine specifically of scholarly content, such as articles in academic journals. It’s still in beta, so don’t be too hard on Google if it’s not perfect. Danny Sullivan has written an article in SearchDay about the new service. Good on ya, Google!

Free pass into password-protected content

Many sites that require registration or payment in order to access their premium content have realized that they can’t keep the search engine spiders (such as Googlebot and Yahoo Slurp) out of their password protected areas or they take a serious hit on their search engine traffic and visibility. Therefore, they let their search engine spiders in, but keep humans out (at least those who don’t have an account, of course). Smart humans can take advantage of the back doors the spiders get shown by simply going into Google or Yahoo and doing a search that is site-specific (using the site: query operator). Then, in the search results, click on the Cached link in the search listing of the page that you wish to read. No Cached link present? Then try clicking on the title of the search listing. You may get redirected to a password entry page, but in many cases you will get through to the content! This is because subscription sites often times let search engine users go just one page deep without requiring log-in. So, after reading that page, simply go back to the search results and click through again to read another page. This works on LATimes.com, ChicagoTribune.com, Webmasterworld.com, and many others. Try it out. Enjoy!

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