Centers of Excellence: SEO/SEM
If you’re fairly new to the subject of search, you’ll find your “101” course work here. In this section we’ll review:
• How search works
• Anatomy of a search page
• Organic v. Paid search results
• Search auction basics
How Search Works
Odds are very good that by now you’ve conducted some online searches yourself. You go to a search engine, type in a few words that reflect what you’re looking for and a fraction of a second later a list of results appears. Typically, this page will contain 10 results down the left side of the page you’re viewing. Each will contain a headline and an excerpt of copy from that site. These results are produced by programs called “spiders” which “crawl” the web “reading” websites. These spiders log information about each of a website’s pages. What is the page about? Which other sites are linked to it and based on previous results, how much stock do we put in those sites’ opinions? Spiders are crawling the web at all times and logging information about millions of websites, so that when you search for “things to do in San Diego,” results can be delivered to you instantly.
There’s something else that happens here, though. At the same time as it’s identifying relevant results for you, an algorithm determines which of these results will be most relevant to your particular query, delivering results in an order that reflects the best results first. These results are constantly being tweaked (thanks to enhancements to the algorithm, changes on the websites and the number of people clicking on the result), so the listings for a given search can change from search to search. The influence of other users (through their clicks) we call “the wisdom of crowds” effect. That is, the more people click on a given result, the program learns that apparently this result is an especially good answer to a particular query.
Anatomy of a Search Page/Organic v. Paid Search Results/Search Auction Basics
As mentioned before, you’ve likely seen a search page before, but maybe you didn’t notice some of the subtleties. The largest area of a search page is comprised of “organic” or “natural” results, which are the output of the process described above. When conducting some searches, though, you may have noticed additional results in shaded boxes above or to the right of the organic results. These are sponsored results; search advertisements. Search ads appear for a combination of reasons, including quality, relevance and an auction-based payment model.
Paid search advertisements are selected based upon the outcome of an auction. Advertisers identify lists of queries (“keywords”) that correspond to their product, campaign or related subjects. The auction assigns each potential search advertisement a “quality score” that reflects both the price per click that an advertiser is willing to pay and the relevance of the “landing page” (the destination web page to which the ad will send a user). By rewarding more relevant ads (since the quality score formula allows more relevant ads to bid lower than less relevant ads), the system ensures users get high-quality answers to their questions in the sponsored links section of query results, as well as in the organic results.
Now, many ask, “Does anyone click on paid ads?” and the answer is, “Yes, quite a few.”
It’s not because those users have been bamboozled. Rather, users tend to click on the result – paid or organic – which seems to offer the best answer to his or her question. Over time, the more people click on a given organic or paid result, the more that result is rewarded by being ranked higher among its competitors, ensuring that users find what they’re looking for and advertisers get the most efficient route to their target audience.
Marketers still think of search as a tool to drive traffic to promotions. However, by changing the point at which search is brought into the marketing process, it can be leveraged as a tool for building equity. Matt Wilburn offers his take on this.