Search Rankings are Dead!

Two interviews caught my attention recently regarding the future of search. Here’s a quick summary of them for you. I believe what they discuss will have a pretty significant impact on SEO in the future.

So what’s all the buzz about, anyway?

It came from two interviews by Mike McDonald of WebPro News at Pubcon with Matt Cutts (of Google) and SEO Pioneer Bruce Clay. Here are the interviews in their entirety and my summary.

The death of search engine rankings (Bruce Clay)
The personalization of search (Matt Cutts of Google)

What, search rankings are dead? Well no, they aren’t dead. They’re just evolving-dramatically. Bruce Clay talked with Mike McDonald of WebPro News about Google’s efforts to personalize search results. Here are a few of his main points/opinions:

1) Google will personalize your searches in the near future. That is, your past searches (whether logged in to Google or not) will effectively bias your search results based on your search history. He used an example of a search for “java.” Your past search history could determine whether your search yielded results about coffee, programming, or travel. Chris Crum wrote a good recap of Bruce’s personalization comments here.

2) Intent based search is here. Search engines will determine intent and bias results towards that perceived intent. For example, reviews or general information queries will likely lead to global search results while a shopping or perceived local search (even without the local qualifier) will lead to geo-local search results.

3) Ranking is dead. According the Bruce, “The day of how high do I rank as a measure of doing SEO right is gone. You’re going to have to look at analytics… You’re going to have to measure traffic… You’re going to have to measure bounce rates… You’re going to have to measure action… Did I get the conversion I was after? Did I really deliver on the promise of SEO?”

4) Universal Search will be HUGE in 2009. Universal (also called Blended Search) was launched in early 2008. I have seen a massive increase in organic search traffic for my clients based on optimizing for Universal/Organic search. Bruce believes that web sites without video, images, and other variables of Universal search will be essentially left in the dust.

I love the point/counterpoint of Matt Cutts (from Google) being interviewed right after a top SEO like Bruce. I can’t help but say “Jane, you ignorant slut!” However, in this case, they more or less agree with each other, which lends even more weight to their comments. Here’s my summary from the Matt Cutts interview regarding Google’s future:

1) Is ranking really dead? Matt addressed this directly by saying,“Well, I’m not sure whether I’d say that ranking is dead. But it’s not as important as it used to be. But the fact is, the smart SEO’s are not necessarily just looking at the rankings. They’re looking at their conversions… and server logs. They are saying, sure, it’s great if I rank for a phrase, but unless that leads to sales it doesn’t help very much.”

2) If rankings are less important, what’s an SEO to do? Again, he addressed the the changing landscape directly by saying: “SEOs are starting to embrace the fact that they are marketers. It’s a broader spectrum. You have to think about how you build buzz, how do you get loyal customers, how do you optimize your ROI. All those different things and that can include how do I make good videos, do I have a book, things like that.”

3) But what about personalization? This is where it will be pretty interesting moving forward. His localization example makes perfect sense. But the personalization aspect seems a bit vague. “As you see more personalization… as you see more localization.. it changes. For example, If you do a search for the word “bank” in the United States, you’ll get Bank of America and other American banks. If you do that search in England, you’ll get Thomas Cook and different banks entirely. The challenge is not to pay so much attention to rankings and to pay attention to your traffic,… pay attention to your conversions,… keep building good content,… and then not worry so much about can I show people that I rank #1 for my trophy phrase.

4) Universal Search is really useful to users. Without telling us that we need to have videos, blogs, and other Universal Search content on our web sites to stay relevant and rank well, he certainly talked about how users are embracing video and blogs as well as how important creating quality content is to Google.
Read: Videos and blogs are mas importante! Get on this train if you haven’t already.

My next post will delve a bit deeper into these topics and include some real world examples of how Universal Search strategies have helped my clients. It will also include my thoughts of how businesses can work to capitalize on the personalization of search in the future.

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Ed Reese
Ed is the Founder of Sixth Man Marketing, Co-Founder of Rebooked, Co-Founder & Faculty Member of LocalU, and an adjunct professor of digital marketing at Gonzaga University. He's a frequent speaker on the topics of analytics and online marketing and is on the cusp of becoming a three-figure professional disc golfer.