Simplifying Search by Complicating It

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of debates over the role of organic search in a marketing plan. The ambiguity inherent in organic search and the amount of received wisdom built up around it make it easy to spend hours and hours arguing over exactly what to do or even how to think about organic search and what effect it should have on a marketing strategy or staffing plan.

It can also distort the very fabric of a marketing function. For example, I talked to a CMO recently who took over a team comprised almost entirely of content marketers, because in recent years, the new received wisdom has been that you win in organic search by putting out lots and lots of content.

There’s no way to dispel the ambiguity (it comes with the territory), but I’ve come to believe that there are ways to manage the ambiguity. The most valuable, in my opinion, is to put ourselves in Google’s shoes. Instead of looking for shortcuts or tricks, we should try to gather as much concrete information as we can to understand how Google thinks about delivering results to users. For me, there are a number of insights I’ve found formative in how I think about search, and the first posts on this blog are dedicated to collecting and discussing them.

I should note upfront: I am not a Google conspiracy theorist. I believe Google’s engineering and webspam teams are motivated by a desire to return useful results. I don’t think they’re trying to trick webmasters into doing the wrong things in hopes of forcing them into AdWords. Google has to do two things to be successful: deliver a great experience for its users and monetize that experience. Those are two different goals, and if Google prioritized the second at the expense of the first, they’d fail at both.

I consider myself a practitioner, not a pioneer. I’m primarily interested in how to apply insights about search to the practical challenge of managing a marketing plan. I prefer to rely on others to uncover those insights, and I’m immensely grateful to the folks who are out there, doing the research, running the numbers to spot the trends.

by Paul Kriloff