For those in the know, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for businesses to not want to use Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) as part of their digital marketing approach. For those that don’t, I’m going to spend a few moments to explaining what exactly a search engine is, what SEO means and pose the question: why exactly are firms so reluctant to use SEO? What does it mean for us as consumers?
Search Engine Optimisation at first glance sounds like a term that would be used to describe the optimisation of search engines themselves. It actually refers to optimising a firm’s presence in organic search engine results. So what is a search engine?
In the early days of the internet, there used to be simply pages that contained a list of servers. It was a primitive form of “web searching” but it got the job done and the “searching” aspect had to be done manually. These pages served as the forerunner of what would become the modern search engine, which contains essentially the same information only on a much larger scale and automates much of the searching process by filtering out all results by relevance when a search bar is used. The relevance of search results is determined by a multitude of complex algorithms that can predict what it is you’re searching for. A search engine in itself is simply a tool that is used to search the World Wide Web for information, such as Google. Google is the most popular search engine on the planet, with over 2 thirds of usage on desktops and over 90% usage on mobile devices. In fact, Google has been used so often that it became an official word in the Oxford Dictionary almost a decade ago and thus serves as the best example for illustration.
Businesses have the option to simply pay other businesses to place advertisements on their websites. This is the same as traditional advertising methods we’ve seen used on billboards, T.V, radio, newspapers and magazines for decades. Little thought is put into these ads, and as we know they’re not very well targeted to individual consumers. Some customer analyses is typically undertaken to determine where to place the ad, on which channels or in which section of the newspaper or webpage or at what time of year, but everybody gets the same ad regardless of its relevance. Yet even the traditional ads have had to adapt by targeting specific consumers differently. Whilst the unique advertising models available in digital space are the cause of this shift, I feel businesses need to take it a bit more seriously.
Search engines represent one of the most used tools of the internet, yet the majority of users aren’t aware of how to control the information that is collected and aren’t fully supportive of how their behaviours are used for data collection. It represents a massive opportunity for business to capture the attention of internet users on a daily basis, however it raises privacy concerns for the end user. Many businesses sought a spot on the infamous right hand side of Google (that was recently removed in favour of a more integrated “organic” system) for example. Businesses could pay for a spot on the right hand side of the page and now this section no longer exists. This just shows how very quickly the internet is changing and how quickly a business needs to be able to adapt in order to be able to effectively reach its customers. Google is moving towards the most organic approach towards integrating ads into its searches. By organic I mean adaptive and dependent on past data, constantly evolving to direct advertisements to specific users. SEO refers to better integrating one’s website into these search results based on the true relevance to search results. Consumers are so frequently using Google that it would be no surprise that businesses would want to effectively appear first in any Google search. However, traditional pay-per click (PPC) advertising is still the more preferred form of online advertising. Why is this so?
Rather than PPC ads, organic ads are best described as ‘hidden’ ads. SEO tends to be more expensive than PPC, yet leads to more relevant (and effective) advertisements. Based on past customer data, Google clearly knew that customers could clearly tell that the left hand section was relevant to their search and the right hand side was simply an entire distracting section full of ads. So now the ads are blended in with our search results. For now we typically know the first four or so results are just advertisements, but Google is looking into blending advertisements into the search results. This has pros and cons. The pros as always are from a business perspective: It’s encouraging businesses to optimise their websites to be the most relevant they can be for only the right search results (SEO), it’s discouraging pop-ups and click bait and making all online advertisements more efficient for both the business and the consumer: consumers can receive the right information when they need it.
However as with everything in digital marketing, what about the ethical concerns from a consumer standpoint? The prospect that advertisements are evolving so much that it’s becoming near impossible to distinguish between the news and an advertisement is rather alarming. This is just one of many ethical concerns that need to be seriously taken into consideration in digital marketing, it raises the prospect that consumers could be manipulated into making purchase decisions they normally would not have made. It’s bad enough that a business may soon have the ability to spy on our every move online, should we not also be concerned that people may not even be able to distinguish between what is and isn’t an ad in the near future?