Vanessa Fox with Book Winners at AZIMAGuest Post Courtesy of Adrian Vender, Senior SEO & Technical Implementation Specialist for Cardinal Path. Native Arizonan with a passion for drumming and Internet marketing.

Vanessa Fox of Nine By Blue visited the monthly Arizona Interactive Marketing Association social event a few nights ago.  As a previous employee of Google she was a driving force behind the development of their Webmaster Central and she continues to spread her search marketing knowledge through many speaking engagements and her writing. Though a search marketing strategy can be daunting to some people, Vanessa offered a refreshingly simple approach in her “Blueprint for Search” presentation and gives us the following key points.

Why care about search?

Vanessa mentions that she could have shown some slides highlighting many stats about how much people are using search engines, but instead asks the audience “Who uses a search engine?” All hands in the room go up.  Generally speaking, we should care about search because virtually everybody is using it. Especially your audience.

Your audience searches

Search engine usage is becoming more a part of our day-to-day habits.  Vanessa talks about how people are drawn to use a search engine after they see something interesting on TV.  Using Google Trends she presents data during the 2011 Super Bowl that showed people searching for “Chrysler”-related terms immediately after the airing of the Chrysler Super Bowl commercial. Another interesting stat was that after the announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden earlier this week, searches related to ‘Osama’ increased 98,000{2bbd478b6aadf2a9bb5e10dcf35d17c0d0772390afbaf5ac8145fb1096668903}!

A quote that Vanessa shows from Slate Magazine sums up this search-response mechanism very well:

“For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs. When we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about driving meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.”

In a very real psychological sense, people are eagerly using search engines to find more information about a subject that is currently interesting to them and we need to make sure that we understand how to provide them that information.

The workflow starts at the search bar

Before your audience finds your website, they will type in a search query and see a set of results. Vanessa shows a slide with Google and Bing search results overlaid by eye-tracking heat maps. We see the typical F-shaped pattern in the eye movement but Vanessa how points out how the eyes weren’t drawn to contrasting details like the local map image.

One explanation for this is that when we type in a search phrase then are minds are fixated on that phrase. That is why we easily focus on iterations of that text phrase vs. other elements on the page.  This is the reason why search engines typically boldface the search query words in the results. We should be mindful of this and make sure we include these search terms within the title tags and descriptions of our pages. (This includes you, news websites!)

Solve the searcher’s problem

Using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website as example, Vanessa points out that although their site has a lot of rich content related to ‘global warming’ but the site was getting very little search traffic for that section. It turns out that very little of this content was optimized for the search phrases discovered in the Google Trends data, making it difficult for Google to determine relevance between what the audience is searching for and your content.

Other takeaways from the presentation

  • Use Google Trends data in context. If you see trends that suggest that more searchers are interested in ‘march madness’ vs. the alarming ‘government shutdown’, you should step back and realize that the intense basketball interest is primarily coming from states with college hoops teams represented in the NCAA tournament
  • Every page on your site is a landing page. With organic search, every page is a potential entry point for your customers. Make sure your pages are optimized for user experience.
  • Don’t use bad metrics. Would you be willing to take a higher bounce rate on a landing page if in actually resulted in more phone leads to your business? The answer should be ‘yes!’ Remember to focus on key performance metrics when evaluating your search traffic performance and not to get lost in the not-so-important metrics.
  • Don’t be like Richard Branson. Even multi-billionaires can get things wrong. Vanessa shows an example of one his vacation retreat websites where there is hardly any readable HTML text (not search friendly) and has a nearly impossible method of navigation (not conversion friendly). Make sure your website is easy for the search engines and your audience to understand.

2 comments on “A Blueprint for Search by Vanessa Fox

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    E. Keith Owens on

    Typing search engine into the usual box might lead you to Microsofts newly launched Bing the combined search at Dogpile or the former king of search Altavista..But for those willing to dig around searching for search engines can reveal a treasure trove The net is rich with specialized search services all trying to find a way to get their slice of the billions of dollars Google makes every year answering queries..For this article we surveyed some 50 specialty search services and picked out our favorites. What follows is not a systematic ranking or review but a general guide to a very vibrant world that few have bothered to explore in depth..The variety of search startups is mind-boggling and hints at the challenges Google may face staying on the bleeding edge of search innovation in the coming years. Theres even something for micro-philanthropists donates a penny to the charity of your choice for each search you run. .None of the sites we sampled are likely to replace Google as your go-to search engine for general queries or dent Googles growing sway as the worlds information broker any time soon.

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