Stacy Pessoney – Search Engine Marketing Tips

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

SERP Browsing Patterns Revealed through Eye-Tracking

The study of consumer behavior has long been integral in the realm of marketing. Along with the proliferation of the Web as an ever improving tool for business, education and leisure, the study of consumer interaction with the internet has become an area of immense interest. Just as consumers are eager to take advantage of mass quantities of information at their fingertips, businesses are anxious to get their messages in front of today’s internet savvy consumers.

Some means of Web exposure have long been measured with precision. We attempt to build an understanding of users’ behavior as they interact with our websites by tracking clicks on paid advertisements and evaluating the manner in which visitors peruse through the pages of our sites. Tracking click through rates is a concrete way to measure how many users visit a site in a given time period, but provides no insight into the process that led the user to select the site over the alternatives in the first place.

Page one of the search results generated by Google, Yahoo and MSN are prime real estate for a site seeking exposure to users who are searching for the information, goods and services it provides. But presented with the list of options on a search result page, how does a user go about deciding which listing to explore further?

Upon pondering this subject, I came across an insightful article from about an interesting eye-tracking study conducted at Cornell University, in which students’ ocular behavior such as fixations and dilations were measured as they performed numerous Google searches and selected listings related to various topics.
Not surprisingly, the study concluded that the first listing in the SERP wins a majority of the attention with regard to both fixation and the number of clicks. Though study participants spent almost as much time looking at the second listing as the first, the second listing captured less than a quarter of the number of clicks than did the first. It was also no surprise to discover that a vast majority of users never explored beyond the first page of search results.

In general, the time spent viewing each listing and the number of resulting clicks declines from the top to the bottom of the search result page, with one fascinating exception: #7. Surprisingly, the listing in the #7 position receives less attention and fewer clicks than the listings in the #6 or #8 positions, suggesting that it gets lost in the page fold as users scroll to view the bottom of the page.

In the real world, most site owners are thrilled to achieve placement on the competitive first page for relevant key phrases on any search engine, and no one has control over whether a site is listed at #6 or #7 in the SERPs. Most site owners and search marketers aim to position their sites in a way that is as genuinely attractive as possible to users and the search engines simultaneously, with the hope that search engines will take notice and deliver the site to users via the search engine result pages. Does this mean hope is lost for obtaining placement in the #1 position? Of course not. You just have to realize that getting to the top is more than a matter of getting from point A to point B; it is a matter of being consistently better than the competition over time. Provide the quality content and intuitive usability that both users and search engines desire, and your site will naturally rise above the competition.


About the Author: Pamela Westbrook is a Project Manager for a premiere search engine optimization firm based in Austin, Texas. Pamela is a graduate of the University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration with a degree in Consumer and Industrial Marketing. For more information about search marketing and PPC management, please visit

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Friday, January 4, 2008

SEO for Beginners: Don’t get taken to the Cleaners

Misconceptions abound in the realm of search engine optimization, due in part to the fact that the industry is unregulated and widely misconstrued. Like the discipline of medicine or law, there are SEOs who remain firmly dedicated to providing genuine, ethical services, and there are inevitably those seeking to make a quick buck capitalizing on the naiveté of others. Gaining a practical understanding of what to expect from search engine optimization can help you make a better long term investment in your website by avoiding SEO firms that fall into the latter group.

True search engine optimization encompasses more than the presence of key phrases on your home page. It even extends beyond Meta tags, inbound links and quality content. To be included in search engine result pages, a site must exude the essence of what search engines and users alike are seeking—authoritative, intuitive, valuable and informative, meanwhile adhering to World Wide Web best practices and current navigability protocols. Effective search engine optimization involves at minimum ensuring that search engine spiders are able to fully index each page of a site and that they can identify the major theme or subject associated with each—signified by the inclusion of the most relevant key phrases. Some site owners are under the delusion that Google has some sort of obligation to find and deliver their site to users. Google, like other search engines and site owners, aims to deliver a top quality user experience, and that includes indexing and providing access to reputable web pages relevant to the topics for which its users are searching. In implementing an SEO strategy to improve a site’s search engine visibility, remember: you are the one who wants your site to appear in the search results generated by Google, not the other way around. Search engine visibility requires that a web page first and foremost be up to the quality standards the engines prefer, and that means having a navigable site structure and original, updated content. Websites should be structured such that they are navigable by search engines while preserving an emphasis on providing a positive user experience. Some code and content modifications to better comply with search engine preferences may be helpful to maximize a site’s search engine appeal.

Another misguided perception that will inevitably lead to disappointment is the expectation of instant gratification from search engine optimization efforts. Even with the benefits of having regularly updated, fresh content, establishing a site as a leader takes time, particularly if it has been launched in recent months. SEO involves a longer time investment to achieve results as compared to pay per click and other forms of advertising that provide fairly immediate exposure. In purchasing a television spot to promote your products, you are purchasing a concrete block of time during which to convey your message to your audience. But establishing your website as a premiere resource in your industry is not such a cut and dry undertaking. Search engine optimization is an art and a science influenced by many factors, and making a few simple changes to a site is not enough to affect significant improvement in search engine visibility. Many pertinent issues must be evaluated in determining the best course of action for a particular site, and the issues to be addressed vary from site to site.

It is important for site owners seeking SEO services to understand that the practice of search engine optimization is one characterized by constant change. Firms providing SEO services must remain actively engaged with a network of industry experts and stay up to date on changes in order to achieve and maintain results. In selecting an SEO firm, be wary of any company promising to boost rankings by making a few quick site modifications or pledging to “SEO” your site in one shot. Guaranteed top search engine placement and other over the top promises should signal a red flag. As the adage goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

About the Author: Pamela Westbrook is a Project Manager for a premiere search engine optimization firm based in Austin, Texas. Pamela is a graduate of the University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration with a degree in Consumer and Industrial Marketing. For more information about search marketing and PPC management, please visit

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