Combine Media and Content for Website Success

A couple of weeks ago I posted a question from LinkedIn Answers: Google Universal Search Renders 90% of websites useless in 2009. A bit extreme? What do you think?

I received some good answers and I wanted to share them here too. But, first a bit of a disclaimer. It seems that there has bee some talk about Universal Search recently and many SEO and Online Marketing Companies are playing it up as something new. This really isn’t true. At Google the idea was first discussed in 2001. Back in late 2006 when I was working for Google, they started experimenting with it and finally injected it into search results in early 2007. Here’s a couple of links that support this (Thanks for the linksJim.):

Official Google Blog (Universal Search: The best answer is still the best answer.)
Search Engine Land (Google 2.0: Google Universal Search)

Just as a reminder the reason I asked the question is because I saw the statement on an advertisement from a web design and marketing company. Really, I think it is just a scare tactic to create an urgency in potential clients. I do agree with it at some level though. With the continuing increase in computing power and broadband internet connections, what you can do online is becoming more and more complex and powerful. The fact that we can now so easily embed video, audio, better images and social function in websites, means that we now have the ability to make things more interesting. Using these tools can create what is called “stickiness” (Online Marketing Glossary), which is measured by the amount of times a visitor returns to the site and how long they stay. Plus, if you create something that is popular and people start telling their friends this can create a viral reaction. Which can help you get traffic and links to your site. Which in turn will most likely help your ranking in the search engines. However, there are plenty of sites that rank very well and have very high traffic volume without any of these bells and whistles. Think CraigsList, Wikipedia or even LinkedIn. So, as the link above from Google’s blog says; “Universal Search – The best answer is still the best answer.” So, a combination of engaging media and interesting/relevant content will give your site stickiness, help get you in search engines and give your site relevancy to stay there.
Though using marketing to create a sense of urgency is not a bad, I would have to warn against companies claiming that without adding media your site is dead in the water. It sounds like they are just chasing the latest trend.

Now to the answers from LinkedIn:

Broad statements seeking to secure business by scare tactics. And, it’s interesting
that they’re saying the problem will be more evident in 2009, when this was rolled
out in 2007, according to these two links, one from Google:

http://searchengineland.com/google-20-google-universal-search-11232.php

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/05/universal-search-best-answer-is-still.html

Actually, my experience with real estate websites indicates that 95+% are
useless (if useful means that the generate business). It’s been that way for
several years, and will probably be that way for a few more.

If useless means they will not be found by searchers (no matter how good the
site at generating business once they find it), then there’s a lot of qualification
necessary to glean truth. If you say that only first page (top ten) results
are really effective, and that anything other than first page is useless, then
99.99999+% of sites are already useless.

The second link I gave above is on the official
Google blog, and I think it says it all: "Universal Search – The best answer is still the best answer." I
think that the content of a page, text primarily, will continue to be the major
component of search algorithms.

It’s a lot like "super sizing" and "get it now." We
want immediate gratification and easy results. As long as that’s the case,
companies
that promise it, whether they can do it or not, will get a bit of business.
I just keep on trying to write content for my sites that visitors want, need
and search for. Of course, I also do a bit of video, some podcasting, and anything
else I think my visitors might value.
Jim Kimmons

The bottom line: It’s an ad and you must consider it that way. it’s trying
to create a response from you, as all good ads should. Contextually, parse
this out. It’s an ad. It’s self-serving. It’s playing a scare-tactic game to
make you think you have to have this service or perish. it’s trying to manipulate
your emotions, and doing a reasonably good job of it. As a marketer, heck…
I respect all those tactics. Not a bad effort. But I would not use it as an
indicator of reality or driver of action/decisions.

And it’s very true what others have said here. I’m
sure well over 90% of all sites are already "useless" by this
metric (i.e. getting noteworthy placement/big traffic from Google).

To me the more important metric of utility is need fulfillment.

On a macro level, as noted, Wikipedia obviously
fulfills a lot of needs with virtually nothing but text. Or how about,
say… THIS site. LinkedIn
is a very
well known, highly trafficked site that – so far as I’m aware – has little
in the way of podcasts, blogs, video, etc. Not even much in the way of photos
(tiny little profile pics don’t really count eh?) This very Q&A board is
about the most advanced it gets. And yet, I derive far more value from LinkedIn
than from many more "media" rich sites like Facebook or YouTube for
example.

A more micro example? One local real estate website utterly fails my need
despite having videos, virtual tours and a blog – because it won’t let me search
for houses by school district, which is my primary need. Another local real
estate site gets all my traffic despite being plain-Jane with just listings
and photos, because it meets my need – I can search by school district.

Finally, dose of reality: Whether Google cares to
admit it or not, there is a tail-wagging-dog effect in my opinion. No site
that goes viral and starts
getting word of mouth and good press fails to start showing up well in relevant
Google searches. Are their search algorithms just THAT good, or is there a
bit of "help?" Hmmmm…
Kristian Chronister

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