Online Search Is Not A Solved Problem
One of the main problems with online searching, is that many users frame their searches in a way that provides a very limited amount of information to the search engine.
This is evidenced by the fact that the average number of words per search is just 2.9, and that searches queries of 4 words and fewer account for more than 80% of all searches on the internet. Many people still do not understand how search engines work, and how to use advanced queries, meaning that searches tend to be both broad and general.
A result of this, is that is can be quite difficult for both the search engines, and online businesses to determine the exact intent of online search engine users.
That said, the prevalence of generic queries represents both challenges and opportunities for online businesses and marketers. Targeting general queries allows the online marketer to begin engaging with the users, building both trust and brand awareness well before the user is ready to commit money to a financial transaction.
For example, a user might start their quest online with a search for ‘digital cameras’. This might then over time be refined to ‘digital cameras SLR’, before a user hones in on a particular brand or model. Finally, the user might then search for the best shop or online retailer to buy the specific model they have chosen.
Clearly, an online retailer that has made the most effort in engaging the user before this purchase decision will be best placed to actually make the sale.
SEO therefore, is more than just particular search result placements. It has to include the business strategies for engaging with and communicating with potential customers, even before they might otherwise be identified as potential customers.
Returning to the ‘digital cameras’ example above, one can see that it is not immediately obvious whether the user is searching with an intent to eventually buy, or just searching because they have a school project on ‘the evolution of the camera’.
The economics of the web though, make the marginal cost of website interactions so small that a business is better off optimising their SEO effort to capture, and provide information to *everyone* searching for ‘digital cameras’. Even in cases where only a very small proportion will ultimately become buying customers, the benefits usually far outweigh the additional cost.
Opportunities also exist because many users are not really sure what they are looking for themselves. For example, someone searching for train fares between two cities could well be tempted to fly instead, by a well place airline advertisement or airline website page in the search results for train fares.
Finally, despite years of effort, recent research has revealed that as many as 20% of search engine users do not always get what they are looking for. With improvements in search technology, and an increasingly tech savvy user base, this will invariably fall, but in the meantime, many opportunities exist for enlightened SEO practitioners to fill this void.
As already noted, key in achieving this, will be a rigorous understanding of the motivations and needs of your target audience.