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The suggestion box

Gord Hotchkiss weighs in with another of his well-thought-out columns, this one on Yahoo!’s new search suggestion capability. Gord makes excellent points on how this function might affect searcher behavior, and I think he is right on. I want to ask search marketers a different question—how will it affect your behavior?


That might seem a silly question, but I believe that widespread use of search suggestions will have a dramatic effect on keyword research for search marketers. Are you ready for the change?
Search suggestion is one of those features that sneaks up on you. It’s been around for years, so search marketers have grown accustomed to it, but we are all just waiting for the day when Google decides to implement it in its Web interface—Google already has the feature in its toolbar. At that point, when the great majority of searches use suggestion (Google, Yahoo! and Ask), then we’ll wake up and understand the effects.
A smart search marketer should anticipate those effects now.
Searchers have two qualities that make search suggestions irresistable. First, the single most-difficult aspect of search is thinking up the words to search for. Searchers get better at this each year, but you know that you have trouble thinking of the right words sometimes—you know the information is out there, but you aren’t sure what it’s called.
Second, searchers hate to type. That’s why so many one-word queries are so popular. People thought of the first word only, or their fingers got tired and they thought, “Maybe that one word is enough.” Often it’s not, and the searcher looks at the top search results, picks out another word, and searches again.
Search suggestion could be a huge game-changer. One-word queries will probably become less common. So, if your search success is built on your dominance of broad queries, you’ll find a smaller percentage of searches in your sweet spot. Searchers intent on typing one word will see suggestions for deeper queries that match what they want and they’ll select them. If your search campaign does better with broad terms than The Long Tail, you may want to start reading Chris Anderson’s book.
But the Long Tail will change, too. Today, the Long Tail contains loads of searches that are entered exactly once. They may be full of misspellings or strange combinations of words caused by the searcher being unable to remember the words he is really looking for. Search suggestion will change this behavior, too. Some of these weird keywords will disappear, replaced by the more popular keywords suggested.
So, the most popular keywords will become somewhat less popular and the very least popular keywords might drop to zero. In addition, the words of middling popularity might begin to be skewed toward more popular variations, because those are often presented at the top of the suggestion list. If your business focuses at the every end of the Long Tail, you may need to move up to somewhat more popular keywords—not the most popular, but more popular.
And that is the Search Suggestion Box. Search sugestion features draw a box around current searches—the box cuts off some of the volume of the most and least popular keywords, adding volume to that fat middle set of keywords that get suggested the most. Focus on those keywords now so you reap the benfit when the change comes.
And if you don’t think Google will implement this, think again. No one knows when it will happen, but it is coming. If you don’t believe me, take a look at that little device in your pocket. As mobile search using cell phones and other handheld devices gains in popularity, you notice that search is one of the few interfaces that works well on a small screen. And who wants to type on those devices? Search suggestion features will be very important for mobile search…at least until voice recognition search becomes popular.
Search marketing never stops changing. But if you think ahead and pay attention to trends, you’ll be ready for more of these changes than you’ll miss.

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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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