Everything you need to know about the future of search engine marketing you learned in the 1990s.
That’s an overstatement, of course, but the basics of SEO and SEM — the very first things you probably learned — now are more important than they’ve been in years for bringing people back to your Web site. It’s all thanks to the new browser wars among Firefox 3, Google Chrome, and Microsoft Internet Explorer 8, all of which are generally evolving in the same direction. All three, for instance, support searching from the address bar, where you normally enter a Web site URL. Chrome encourages this the most, as it doesn’t even have a search box, but the same feature is on all the browsers. The searches all are conducted through the default search engine you select (IE8, for example, doesn’t hold you to Live Search).
More importantly, these address bars all offer suggestions as you type. Generally, these are based on which sites you’ve previously visited, how often and/or recently you’ve visited them, and potentially some other factors. Firefox sticks to your browsing history, but Google will sometimes recommend other sites it deems relevant, while Microsoft occasionally recommends a page from one of its properties. The history is what marketers and publishers have the most control over, so that’s where the focus needs to be.
The opportunity here is retention. If someone has visited your site before, however they found it, you want to increase the odds that they’ll come to you directly rather than search again and potentially check out competitors. Ideally, you want to be found through search once, and then save the consumer the need from ever running that kind of search again.
For starters, you should optimize page titles. All three browsers rely on them. For instance, I ran a search that I tried when planning my honeymoon: “travel India.” I clicked one ad, leading me to a landing page entitled, “Private Guided Travel in India & Nepal: India, U.A.E., Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan.” I searched again and clicked on another ad where the landing page simply had the tour operator’s name. Now, whenever I start typing “travel India” in the address bar, that first tour site comes up, and it will also come up if I start typing queries relating to any of countries listed in the title. The site for the other operator never comes up. The same effect shows up across all three browsers.
Another important factor is the filename. I went to my blog and clicked on a photo of Usher from the Service Nation event in New York a couple weeks ago. The filename is usher_at_service_nation_nyc.jpg. Now, when I type “Usher” in my Firefox address bar, it leads me right to that image. With IE8, it actually goes to the blog post where that image lives rather than the image alone, even though I hadn’t actually visited that post in IE. Chrome doesn’t bring up the file in its suggestions at all, but that will most likely change over time. These browsers have a way of looking more alike, even as they stake out their own identities.
Reviewing these optimization basics won’t likely cause a huge difference overnight. As I mentioned in my end of summer roundup, it will take some time to learn how much these new browsers encourage direct navigation. Yet it’s somewhat reassuring that you probably already know the tactics that will put you in the best position with the new browsers, and they’ll provide other benefits for your landing pages whether you’re focused on SEO or paid search. While it may be frustrating needing to focus on a new round of browser wars, they can make you feel smarter for having learned all the tricks already.