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November 18, 2008


Google Behavior-Based Search: Is Bruce Clay Right?

by Anthony Verre

Should Site Traffic be the Ultimate Goal?

WebProNews recently reported on Bruce Clay’s PubCon “Top Shelf Organic SEO” lecture.  If you’ve read it, then you know exactly where I’m headed.  If you haven’t here’s the gist of it:

Ranking is dead,” says Bruce, recalling his words from his presentation. Going forward, he says you’re going to have to look at analytics, measure traffic, bounce rates, action, etc. SEOs will have to ask themselves questions like: – Did I get the conversion I was after? – Did I really deliver on the promise of SEO? Bruce thinks that in the first six months of 2009, we’re going to see a lot more implementation of behavior and intent-based search leading to a mindset of ranking is dead, and traffic is all that matters.

I wrote about this topic in early September this year, and it seems to be finally making it’s way to the mainstream.  Do I think that Bruce has got it right?  Yes, Bruce got it right: search engine position and rank is dead.  However, where I think Bruce is leading SEOs astray is claiming traffic is the new “Google #1”.  It most certainly is not.

In Terms of Small Business SEO:

Google Personalized Search on Small Business SEO

Google Personalized Search on Small Business SEO

Personalized search (behavior-based search) based of your IP Address, or Google tracking you through your Google Account, is going to make search engine rankings quite irrelevant.  Because results will be based on several new factors, not automatically taken into account now: geo-location, types of searches, and previously visited pages, results will now be somewhat tailored to fit those factors.

Will this affect small business SEO?  Inherently, yes.  A majority of small business owners have trained themselves in the belief that being “#1 in Google” is the only goal that matters.  With personalized search, “being #1” may or may not help; for example:

If a user, let’s say this user is a dentist, and does dental searches all day for information on x-wing bites, a common dental x-ray technique, but is a Star Wars buff.  Our dentist can’t remember the name of the rotund guy who flies the x-wing in the original Star Wars.  So the dentist types in “fat guy x-wing”. Personalized search is, in all probability, not going to be able to distinguish between a “work” search and “Star Wars” search.  Thus, giving the dentist work-related results. (By the way, the fat guy was Porkins).

Trying to explain why being #1 in Google may be irrelevant to small business owners, will not be easy.  For years this is all they heard, this is all they know.

A Point of Contention With Bruce Clay

Do I think that Bruce was wrong to say that traffic is the new goal?  Absolutely.  Traffic, of course is a must have, but should it be the singular goal of the SEO?  Absolutely not.

In fact, it’s definitely not the most important benchmark for success.  It’s simply a byproduct of success.  What is the real measure of success on a website?  Goal Conversion.  It’s where all SEOs should be focusing themselves.  Goal Conversion.

In my opinion traffic is akin to pageviews.  You can have a lot of both, but if you aren’t making money, then does anyone really care that you bring in 10,000 unique visitors a day, who view 1,000,000 pages?  Definitely not.

We have established, albeit painfully, that the CPM-model for site revenue is non-sustaining.  Use the latest tragedy of CPM-Model driven revenue: Boomertowne.  A spectacular disaster; simply an awe-inspiring bomb sure to make every not-so-net-savvy entrepreneur think twice before getting on the CPM Train.

This is all to say: traffic, like pageviews, is of a bygone era.  The focus has to be on goal conversion: funneling consumers/users to make the purchase, inquire for more information, or contact you.

How To Function As An SEO in the New Personalized Search

1) An SEO must still do the basics:

  • Tedious KW research, tedious client research, and tedious competition research.
  • Solid Meta-Data (Page Titles, Description, and, yes, a couple of keywords too)
  • Site and Page Usability Methodology

Why do all this if Google is going to throw traditional search out the window?  Because people are people.  Because users have a sixth-sense if a site is spam or not.  Because users still read search engine results pages.  And, most importantly, Google will not remove these factors from the algorithm.  It’s built an empire from making these, and link calculation methods, how relevance is calculated and then displayed.

2) Focus on Goal Conversion

That’s the bottom line: are users converting on the site?  Considering the economic disaster at-hand, small business owners probably care less about high traffic numbers, if they’re not making any money.  As an SEO, you are not only the traffic bringer’, you’re also the goal conversion expert. (At least you should be.  And if you’re not, you need to start learning quickly)

That’s where SEO and SEM are headed: Goal Conversion.  It’s more important ever to be cognizant of goal conversion as the goal of SEO.

  1. Jan 17 2009

    Thank you : )

  2. Jan 28 2009

    Traffic – any way you can get it – is king but it helps to be targetted. No one wants a flood of junk traffic eating up server resources if you cannot monetize it. better 1 good buyer than 1000000 browsers i say

  3. thank for share 😉

  4. nice article

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