Identifying Quality. Search Engines Have Work to Do.

One Thing You Can’t Find With Search Engines


Search engines — Google, Yahoo, Bing among others — are designed to help users find the best answer for their needs. The results listings SERP (Search Engine Results Page) are ordered by the search engine’s interpretation of relevance to its index of organic content. In theory, the first page of search results should represent the closest match to your needs. This means getting to the top of the results page can result in more quality traffic to your website.

Even with the best of intentions, measuring and matching the quality of an actual product or service with a user query is something that the search engines have yet to master. Why? Because search engines rely on meta information from online content or PPC ads to determine whether a web resource is a high quality match to the user’s query.

In the eyes of search engine crawlers, a quality web page is one that is responsive, designed professionally, easy to navigate, provides relevant, direct information, features legitimate, top-quality and credible content. Geographic proximity also plays a role as one of hundreds of ranking factors.

A shortcut that can cause confusion

PPC (pay per click) is a shortcut to achieving high Pagerank. PPC allows marketers to bid for keyword-based ad placement in sponsored links that appears on SERPs every time a relevant search is made. To make a PPC investment worthwhile and appealing to advertisers, search engines ensure that paid listings precede organic results that may represent a closer match to the query.

PPC that places a business listing at the top of the list may also generate instant website traffic. Depending on the competitive nature of your product or service, costs can range from pennies to hundreds of dollars per click.

While effective in generating traffic, the bottom line is that PPC costs tend to rise with increasing website traffic, and PPC only works as long as you pay for your ads to appear.

A more egalitarian approach

Organic results follow paid listings in search results and can be influenced by performing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of your online content. The cost of the endeavor is inverse to that of PPC. An investment in site optimization, blogging, social media and other organic inbound marketing approaches builds traffic over a period of months and years. And as more visitors see your content, your cost per click goes down (amortization). The advantage of SEO is due to the shear amount of content. With SEO, you have a better opportunity to match your offerings to user queries. Even so, you can’t get on top of the PPC ads. For users, comparing quality indicators between ads and top organic listings can be challenging. Statistics show that most users feel more confident about organic content, but ads often serve as an effective distraction particularly in high volume search categories.

Reviews and ratings services

To assist prospects and buyers in making better decisions, online review platforms attempt to provide helpful guidance in exchange for viewing ads or accepting email marketing. Unfortunately, determining the validity of a review methodology, or veracity of “customer” reviews is near impossible and if your competitors are using these services for marketing, you need to consider that activity as well. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.

The reality of online search

You can appreciate why the idea of a quality product or service can get lost among the sea of active online marketers who are leveraging PPC and SEO.

Bigger and brighter doesn’t always mean better and so ranking on the first page of search results as a result of paid placement does not translate to the information, product or service being of top-notch quality. It’s simply paid placement or effective SEO which by nature is biased towards the product or service.

Perpetuating the illusion of quality

How much does creating the perception of quality really cost? In terms of paid placement, it could be more than $70 billion (the amount of revenue Google expects to generate in 2016 from its advertising business).

In terms of SEO, start-up costs and monthly fees for blogging, social media can be meaningful, but over time are lower than PPC.

A hopeful future?

As much as search engines may attempt to present the closest matching results to a search, to better serve users, search engines need to rethink how ads are graphically presented and placed due to the nature of PPC. The idea that a product or service company can and will pay to get to the top rank — increasing the likelihood of a click-through — makes it harder for users to discern quality and trust.

Perhaps search engines can redefine how indexing works and the kinds of information displayed on search results. More integration can be achieved with authentic reviews, testimonials and work examples being featured on SERPs, with less focus on the notion of a searcher looking for the quick answer, instead of the best answer. The former can be more expensive for all of us.

How to get the most out of your SEO approach

Quality products and service can shine online, but you have to make a legitimate effort to put forth buyer persona focused content that highlights points of difference and reasons to believe. If you rely solely on traditional non-digital forms of getting the word out about your company, chances are you’ll be left behind or missing out on opportunities to create more demand for what you do.

About the author: Tom Weinkle is a founder and partner of Vortex Communications, a graphic and website design firm who offers brand agency services, graphic and WordPress web design, build, troubleshooting and training services along with search optimization, social media and inbound marketing services. Based in Miami, Florida, Tom has over 25 years of experience in branding and visual communications for the healthcare, medical, law, accounting, software, financial services and banking industries.

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