SEM – The World’s Largest Popularity Contest

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Currently, search engine marketing is best described by the phrase “popular.” This may change in the future, but right now, to rank in a competitive search term, you have to be popular; you know, like way back in high school where there was a division between the “cool kids” and everyone else.

Google uses specific metrics to rank websites. Some of them have to do with the keywords and structure of the site, and others have to do with how many links point to a site and what type and subject the sites are linking to. As soon as Google (ore the other engines, but since Google is the most important, I’ll almost always use it in my examples) starts using metric X as a guide for relevancy, a million marketers try to manipulate the hell out of metric X until it no longer works as well before. To counter this trend, the search engines have to continually add more and more metrics, or things to measure, to their algorithms.

Early SEO involved a lot of strategizing on how to manipulate audiences and sites to meet the most metrics, or relevancy signals. Now a lot of this has changed to involve at lot more creativity to answer the question of how do I build / hype / promote the most popular site I can. By popular, I mean a site that other people will actively affirm they like via links or votes on social media sites. With the advent of web 2.0 and social media the LARGE majority of metrics that Google has used, is using and probably will use long into the future have been met.

Popularity is a great thing for both creative and technically savvy search marketers because they can structure a site and campaign to be the most effective for targeting an audience and keywords. They can then use their creativity to appeal to other bloggers and websites for links.

The down side to the popular web for users is that “un-sexy” websites or those that don’t use sensationalism in their marketing (like finance companies, for example) may loose out in rankings to sites that use more sensationalism and theatrics to gain popularity, even though the more boring site may actually be a better, more relevant site for visitors. Back to my high school or chick flick analogy: it’s kind of like the jerk that gets the girl, while the nerd or “best friend” doesn’t, even though he’s actually better for her; the ‘popular’ web can follow along the same lines. Of course, things could be worse, such as the days when search engine results pages were full of spam and thin content pages.

SEM – The World’s Largest Popularity Contest
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