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Search Engine Wars – What You Need To Know About Standard Search In 2014

The first part of a three-part series

In early 2013, the search engine wars heated up.  Google and Bing battled it out for a higher share of search, each company tweaking its algorithm and results pages to win over users.  The war continues, but as the calendar flips to a new year, you have to look at it with a much broader view.

Search companies are no longer fighting the search engine wars on one turf.  There are now three distinct battlegrounds:  standard search, mobile search, and social search.  To keep your business at the top, you’ll need to be wary of all three fronts.  Welcome to the search engine wars of 2014.

Content is King in Standard Search

It’s always best to begin with the original.  Despite what you might read or hear, standard search is still number one.  In the first quarter of 2013, traditional computers owned over 75% of website traffic – that’s huge!  It might be a shrinking market, but it’s still a behemoth and one you can’t ignore just yet, at least not in 2014.

While standard search remains strong, its persona has changed dramatically over the years.  Just take a look at Google.  Six years ago, when you typed a keyword or phrase into the search bar, your results page would consist of a few paid search ads and ten organic search links.  Type that same keyword or phrase into Google today and you’ll receive those same search ads and links, plus a slideshow of images, video recommendations, news sources, and more.

B2B Content Marketing UsageStandard search content is becoming more varied, more visual and more influential.  In order to compete in standard search in 2014, companies need to start thinking about the broader spectrum of content.  It’s no longer just adding keywords on a page; it’s everything you do – blogs, images, videos, white papers, social media posts, infographics, enewsletters – and it all needs to align to your brand and objectives.  Just look at this graph from Content Marketing Institute displaying what types of content B2B marketers use (see chart).  By branching out into these other content outlets, your business will be better positioned to compete in this richer multimedia space.

Google’s ‘All-Natural’ Push

Google is the front-runner when it comes to content and the search engine wars.  It continues to dominate the standard search realm – in the news and on the minds – as website owners listen to every word out of Matt Cutts’ mouth or change strategies at the onset of every new algorithm launch.  It may sound ludicrous to some people, but it says something about Google’s presence and strength in online search.

The year 2013 proved to be a big one for Google’s continued desire to push out spammers and reward websites that stick with producing natural content.  The algorithm updates, aptly named Panda and Penguin 2.0, continued to promote high-quality content and punish websites who couldn’t keep up.  Do not think 2014 will be any different.  If you haven’t jumped on the ‘create natural content’ bandwagon yet, then this is your last chance.

Bing Fights Back

Of course, you can’t dismiss Google’s main rival, Microsoft.  Many years ago, after the failure of MSN, many people discounted their ability to bounce back into search.  They launched Bing with a bang, then it fizzled, and now it’s clawed its way back into a runner-up position.  All that came through hard work, innovation and persistence (oh and lot of money thrown into the ring too).

While Bing still follows in Google’s footsteps on many accounts (a similar push for natural content, for example), its newfound popularity has also given it some wiggle room to try new things.  Ever heard of Bing Boards?  Microsoft recently teamed up with Pinterest to bring unique image collections straight to the SERPs.   These ‘boards’ appear beside standard listings and bring relevant social and visual information to the forefront of your search results page.  Now an image search brings you the best of both worlds – computer-sifted results plus human-designed collections.  Google may be #1 today, but Bing’s innovative stance and strong partnerships are bound to shake things up in 2014.

Rise In Conversational Search

There’s another big trend that has Google and Bing fighting for best search results.  This is the rise in ‘conversational search’ where people are searching the way they speak.  Forget trying to steal “apples” as a keyword.  Look at answering, “Where can I find delicious orchard apples in New York?” and building content related to “New York orchards with fresh apples”.  For 2014 you need to focus on capturing these long-tail keywords and conversational search phrases.

This concept will greatly affect how you generate your content.  In fact, it will completely reverse the role of content creation.  Rather than trying to squeeze keywords into your content, you’ll be creating content to answer these key questions or conversations.  Luckily, this reversal actually puts an emphasis on quality content creation because it follows a more natural flow.

Increased Personalization

The way people search is not the only thing intriguing Google and Bing.  They’ve both thrown their weight behind giving each user a personalized search experience that is catered to his or her search style.  Live in the US?  Often visit sports websites?  Friends with socially active people?  All these data points can be tracked and used to facilitate your individual search results, meaning each user will see different search results than another (to a point, of course).

This is nothing new and 2013 was simply a continuation of this trend.  Yet as the web expands, users continue to search and share, and data tracking improves, expect your 2014 results to become even more personalized than your 2013 ones.

What Now?

The standard search war is far from over and Google and Bing will continue to go head-to-head in 2014.  As the battle rages, here are the things you can do to get ready right now:

  • Create more natural content in more places.  Think outside the box, meaning don’t just add more copy to your webpage or increase your blogging frequency.  See where you can add instructional videos to your blog or take photos of your products in action.  Develop an e-newsletter and target your biggest fans or start a board on Pinterest that promotes your business.  If you need help, hire an agency to develop your content for the new year.
  • Identify long-tail keywords and questions.  Become more targeted in determining your audience and what they want.  Aim your content creating towards these long-tail keywords and conversations where you’ll have fewer competitors and can provide highly relevant information.
  • Develop a content strategy.  With personalization, conversations, and genuineness targeted by Google and Bing as important areas, you’ll need a solid strategy to develop the best content possible.  Don’t wing it – sit down and take the time to develop a content strategy for 2014.

Standard search is just one of the major battlegrounds.  Google and Bing are also heavily involved in mobile search and social search, two of the fastest growing search areas.  If you want to be prepared for 2014, then make sure to catch the next two parts of our three-part series on the search engine wars.

Go to part two of the Search Engine War series: What You Need to Know About Mobile Search >>