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Could you get a #1 search result?

I’ve often joked to audiences that I can get them a #1 search result for their Web site as long as they let me pick a search term obscure enough. I can get the top spot, but it won’t actually bring them any business because no one searches for that term. But search engines so rarely agree on #1 results, that you may actually have it within your reach for valuable search terms. If you typically use the same search engine for all your searches, it might surprise you to learn that search engines rarely agree on what the top results are. What’s more, that trend will only accelerate as time goes on. If search engines don’t provide the same answer to the same question, how can that be good for a search marketer? Read on.


First, let’s understand what the search study, released last month, really says. Out of almost 20,000 searches studied, the top four search engines agreed on the top result less than 4% of the time, and never once agreed on all top three results (regardless of the order of those results). Just four years ago, the search engines agreed on the top result nearly twice as often.
So what does this mean to a search marketer?
At the very least, it means you have more chances to win. If you think about each #1 result for a search term as having one winner, you have more winners when the search engines disagree. If you already have the #1 result in Google, this is bad news for you, but most of us don’t, so it provides hope.
Obviously, not all #1 results are created equal—you’d rather have the top result in Google, who handles 50% of all searches, than in Ask.com, which tops out around 3%. But it’s better to have the #1 result for 3% of the searches than for none. What this survey is saying is that more sites have a chance for top rankings than you might think.
More interesting than the fact that results differ is why they differ. Obviously, differences in each search engine’s relevance ranking formula is a big factor, but sometimes the engines differ just because they have indexed different content. If one search engine favors more video results than another, then videos have a better chance of breaking through on that search engine. This aspect of search differences got a huge push when both Ask.com and Google went to integrated search results (Google calls it universal search) that inject many more kinds of content in the results, beyond the traditional list of Web pages. Blogs, podcasts, video, and more now dot the search results.
Search marketers would be wise to take advantage. If you can create really good answers to questions—very compelling content–you have a much better chance of breaking through now than ever before. The search results are more varied than ever and you can be the page at the top of some search engine somewhere.
In addition, personalized search is creeping up—at that point different searchers will have different results for the same search in the same search engine. Think about how many more chances there are for that top result.
Chris Anderson’s Long Tail caused search marketers to focus on more rare search terms in the quest to get top results. This study, and the trend to personalized search, shows that there is a long tail of searchers, too. Search results are becoming fragmented, favoring search marketers whose content is the perfect answer not just for a search term, but for a search term for a particular searcher in a particular search engine.
Search marketing is becoming less a winner-take-all business (get the #1 result for the popular term across all search engines) and becoming more a game of very targeted marketing. Is your search marketing strategy ready for the change?

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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