SEP not only talks to the major players in the SEO industry, we can articulate the implications and business impact of a given move by a search engine. By extension, we also have this uncanny way of seeing around corners and knowing what's coming next in this hot space.
1. Google's roll out of "Universal Search" has changed the playing field for the future. The watchword is "different" and that's how search engine marketers will need to think. Take a look at this result for a search on "dove beauty workshop". Note how Dove, complete with video playing within the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), owns the entire organic side above the fold. Search engines have long been guilty of doing exactly the opposite of what online marketers try to achieve. We try and keep visitors on our websites for as long as possible with engaging content. Search engines rocket people somewhere else within seconds of the search results appearing. But with a little sprinkle of heuristics and a dash of AJAX, we're on the same page, literally.
Google's acquisition trail has seen them pick up YouTube and FeedBurner, among others. Data from those sources combined with its own news results, images, videos, maps, local, finance and more makes for a much richer end user experience. So much better than simply throwing ten blue links onto the page. Content for Google and other search engines just took on a whole new meaning.
2. Keyword research has long been the foundation of successful SEO/SEM campaigns. Target the wrong keywords and you're doomed from the start. How much keyword research did you do before you launched your website? Whether it was little or lots, there's one sure fire way of finding out whether your copy is pulsating with the correct keywords for your audience.
Head over to the Google external keyword tool. Choose the site related keywords tab and point Google directly to your own domain (check the box: "Include other pages on my site linked from this URL"). Google will then quickly crawl your site and come back with its own algorithmic evaluation of what your site's about. Are your primary keywords shouting out at you in the results? Now, go and point Google at your competitor's site and see how much better (or not) they're doing.
3. Where in the world are you? It's possible that you know where you are, but search engines such as Google don't really have a clue. We've always believed that if you're international and targeting specific geographic territories, then you should be located there.
Owning a TLD (Top Level Domain) for the country you're targeting such as mycompany.de and mycompany.fr is a good start. But even if you have the TLD and you're hosting is another country, you could be confusing the issue for search engines.
Need to know what search engines know about you, including where they think you are? Then pop over here, input your URL and see what Google sees. You're in Italy, but Google thinks you're in Smalltown, USA. Hmmmm! If you're getting thrashed by your competitor in a specific country for local traffic, search on his domain to find out where search engines think they are.
4. It's impossible. Or is it? What if pay-per-click advertisers got very annoyed because they were paying for a little blue box of text on the right hand side of the page? And in contrast, some folks are getting a huge page full of varied results and file types on the free side (see Dove example above).
It seems pretty straight forward to me that people making transactional/commercial type queries are looking for transactional/commercial type results. So why not flip the page and have the paid results on the left (resplendent with various complementary results and file types)? And have the ten blue links routine on the right?
5. How many backlinks do I have? What's my PageRank? What do people say about me in link anchor text? How do I find more links? What are the most popular keyword searches? What's my ranking at search engines? Do I have barriers preventing my site from being crawled? What's my page strength? I just have to know these things!
Don't panic. All the answers are right here: http://www.seomoz.org/tools.
6. A long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away... Our founder wrote a book about search engine marketing. And in that book he explained a taxonomy of search, as researched and presented by leading information retrieval scientist Andrei Broder. It went like this (and still does):
"Navigational is when a surfer really wants to reach a particular web site. If they do a query like, say, United Airlines, for instance. Probably what they really want is to go directly to the web site of United Airlines – like www.ua.com just like if someone typed BBC, it's most likely they want the web site of the BBC - and not the history of the BBC and broadcasting. They probably want to just go directly to the web site. We all do a lot of these types of searches."
"This applies to the surfer who is really looking for factual information on the web. So they make a query like say...'low haemoglobin' for instance. This is a medical condition. They are looking for specific information about this condition. That's very close to classical information retrieval."
"Transactional means that ultimately the surfer wants to do something on the web, through the web. Shopping is a good example. You really want to buy stuff. Or you want to download a file, or find a service like, say, yellow pages. What you really want to do is get involved in a transaction of information or services. Take a shopping query, these are transactional queries where people want to buy stuff and so on. So, they are wanting a return which satisfies this need."
(Quotes lifted from my interview with Andrei Broder)
So, are you saying that a search engine knows the difference between a research query and a shopping query?
Dr. Broder is with Yahoo! Labs now. Yahoo! Mindset you can decide which you want to see more of: shopping results or research results.
7. Did we mention that Google launched its new "Universal Search"? We think we did (once or twice). But Google's not the only game in town. Check out this search result for "spiderman 3" over at Ask.com. Their own new interface and presentation (known as 3D search) is awesome.
Do you get the feeling that search is moving up a notch?
8. I'm a programmer, not a marketer. What can you do for me then? Well, actually, we can make your day! we can turn you into a hybrid. Hold still now. This won't hurt...
Professional SEO with ASP.NET: A Developer's Guide to SEO. Yes... it's a book full of code and SEO tips and tricks for you ASP.NET lovers. And just when you thought life for a coder couldn't get any better... We'll throw in the PHP version for you too! Here it is:
Professional SEO with PHP: A Developer's Guide to SEO
9. Trying to get your head around paid search? The boss came along and said: "You're our new paid search guru. Now find out how it works!" No small task. You need help and quick.
Can't afford to go jetting around the planet to one of those fancy conferences? Don't have time to try and read your way through a lot of books you have to order, pay for and then actually read? You could use a totally gratis course to send you bursting on your way.
Yes, you're right, we have one for you here: http://www.google.com/adwords/learningcenter/. It's the official Google AdWords video course. Sit back, listen, learn, enjoy. Then tell your boss you're leaving to set up your own agency!
10. Way at the top of this column we said, "content for search engines just took on an entirely new meaning". Let me think. Did we mention anything about Google's "Universal search", Ask's 3D search, and SERPS that feature podcasts, videocasts, blog results and anything else which you can wrap up in an RSS feed? We think we did.