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Search Engine Optimization: Beyond Search Keywords

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The words people type into a search box are not always the words they like to read when they click on the search result. Here’s why.

In March 2006, 3,252 people searched for “New York hotel deals” according to Yahoo! Search Marketing. In the same period, only 46 people searched for “New York hotel special offers”. Yet, I have found through ongoing research that “special offers” is a more attractive phrase to many than “deals”.

In March 2006, 10,257 people searched for “New York cheap hotel”. How many of these people were in fact looking for a plush hotel at a big discount? I often search for cheap hotels, but that doesn’t mean that when I click on a search result, I’m thrilled when I see a heading such as: “Welcome to our dirt cheap hotel.”

I’ve just searched for “New York cheap hotel” on Google. The first result brought me to Amsterdam Inn. Here’s a selection of the content I’m greeted with on the homepage: “A boutique hotel for the budget minded.” “Amsterdam Inn, the hip boutique hotel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.”

Not a word about “cheap” or “deals”. A classification called “Specials” and some nice soothing words about how, “The Amsterdam Inn offers you the comforts of a home away from home.”

I have asked people in many countries why they preferred “special offers” over “deals”. It made them feel “special”, many replied, while “deals” sounded like something you got from a second-hand car salesman.

When we search we’re cheap. We’re brutal and to the point. We use the minimum words possible and these words are lean and mean. When we arrive at a webpage we’ve mellowed a little. Should we be about to buy or make some other important decision, we want to feel comforted and clever and special and maybe even cool.

Certain newspapers are realizing that they need to write one headline for the reader and one for the searcher. This is according to “This Boring Headline is Written for Google,” an article by Steve Lohr for the New York Times. Lohr gives some examples from the BBC website: Heading for reader: “Tulsa star: The life and career of much-loved 1960′s singer.” Heading for searcher: “Obituary: Gene Pitney.”

Sometimes, those involved in search engine optimization lose sight of certain absolutely critical issues. The objective should not be to optimize for any particular search engine. It is to optimize for people who search. This is a subtle but essential distinction. It’s easy to get obsessed with the technical aspects of Google and Yahoo!

Search is never an end in itself. It is the beginning of a task. When I search for “New York cheap hotel” my likely task is that I want to book a hotel in New York at a great price. If search engine optimization brings me to a website which makes me hit the Back button after one quick look, then what good is that?

On the Web, words drive actions. A certain set of words will help customers find a particular website, but then a different set of words will be required to help these customers complete their tasks.

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For your web content management solution, contact Gerry McGovern http://www.gerrymcgovern.com

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Search Engine Optimization: Beyond Search Keywords
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