Build Your Business:

Online Search: An Update

The Long Tail refers to the relationship of how much search volume there is for any given keyword or keyword phrase. The more generic the term, the higher the volume. The more specific the term, the lower the search volume.

March 16, 2015

Gone are the days of Internet keyword-driven search. It was sweet while it lasted, but during the past two or three years, a big shift in Internet-driven searching has taken place. There are a lot of reasons for it and here, you’ll get a view of what has changed, what’s no longer working and what is working.

Search engine optimization (SEO) was the practice of designing and adjusting your web pages so they would rank highly on the first page of the search results. It became a big game until people realized it was one they couldn’t win.

It has been well known for many years that Google, the 800-pound gorilla of Internet search, has a mysterious, secret algorithm it uses to rank your web page position on the search engine results page. I first became involved with SEO in 2005 and spent the better part of the next three years working to keep my pages in the Nos. 1-3 positions for the keywords people were using at the time. It was fun and profitable.

This involved lots of keyword research, testing, adjusting and comparing. It was time consuming and quite productive in the beginning when there wasn’t a lot of competition for the keywords. My pages ranked successfully, but they didn’t get that much traffic.

After spending a ton of time on it, I realized the number of people looking for what I was selling didn’t make it worthwhile. Just because you have a No. 1 page position doesn’t mean you’ll get visitors or traffic to buy from you. To get the traffic I needed, it became necessary to get dozens of low-traffic pages ranked. Collectively, they
delivered the amount of traffic we needed to get enough new customers to grow.

Simple keywords, such as “custom T-shirts,” gave way to long-tail keywords by 2008. “Long-tail” simply means more specific descriptions or, essentially, keyword phrases. So custom T-shirts became “custom printed T-shirts San Luis Obispo.”

The more specific you made your page, the easier it was to rank in the top three positions. The audiences were much more precisely targeted and a higher percentage of the visitors were converted. Even though it was easier to rank these terms and the conversions were easier, you had much smaller potential audiences. What you gained in rank positioning, you gave up in audience size available to view your page. It was a constant series of trade-offs.

By 2008, searching on the Internet exploded, and increasing numbers of consumers discovered online shopping. That for which it was easy to attain a ranking became very expensive, super competitive and time-consuming. Even if you did rank, there was a little secret Google didn’t want you to know about. I generally don’t believe in conspiracies, but … well, read on.

Google makes money by selling ads. Specifically, Google AdWord ads — billions of dollars worth of them every month. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the model. If you get really good and all your pages rank in the No. 1 page position, you don’t need to buy any ads from Google.

The folks at Google know this, so they play this cat-and-mouse game, which works like this: You work really hard to get all your pages ranked. You get traffic. You sell stuff. All is good. In the meantime, Google watches how many people move up and own the top page positions. They let you make some money — maybe even a lot of money. Google lets this go on until you get good and hooked on the business flow that your free search positioning is delivering.

Meanwhile, Google is looking at how your traffic arrived on your site by comparing the traffic’s referral sources. Was it search related? Did it come from a blog post, article or link from someone else’s website? How many other pages were pointing to your webpage as an authority in your niche?

In the beginning, about once a year, Google would do this thing called “The Google Dance.” This involved changing the algorithm rules so that, all of a sudden, you would disappear from your page position. Boom! Gone overnight!

Of course, you were selling a lot of stuff. Making your company’s web page disappear from its ranking would force you to buy Google advertising to stay on the first page of the results. Not only was it expensive for the folks being bumped, but it was profitable for Google.    

Everything moved along this way until about 2010. Google changed the rules and their revenue increased. Advertisers then learned the new rules and got their pages ranked again. Of course, they were now paying SEO experts to do this for them and the SEO industry took off.

This annoying cycle continued until 2013, when there were four major revisions in one year. Not only that, but Google made more than 500 changes to its algorithm to stay ahead of the SEO experts. The Google Dance had become the “Google Slap,” and it became painfully apparent the game was over and SEO was now dead, at least for the small guys like those in our industry.

While all this was happening, something else was occurring in the background. Facebook and Twitter took off like crazy in 2008. People were talking and the world was listening.

But the business world didn’t understand social media at all. They thought is was a bunch of high school and college kids posting pictures of their drinking parties and their cats, dooming it as a colossal waste of time and completely unproductive. Not only that, but they feared the disgruntled consumers who would post negatively about their businesses and ruin them. So many businesses stayed far away from social media.

There may have been some truth to it, but let’s face it — most of those negative posts were actually deserved. When horrible customer service was pretty much the rule of the day, the consumer had no way to retaliate or fight back.     

Social media changed all of that. By the time Facebook and Twitter took off, consumers could tell the world about their experiences — the good, the bad and the ugly. They could really punish a business for horrible customer service, poor performance or a shoddy product. Suddenly, we started to see the rise of sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Local, Merchant Circle, Hot Frog, Manta, YP, Amazon Reviews and many more.

Consumers were rating, tweeting and telling the world about what businesses were selling and what the experience was like. And people were listening. Just like with Google, some people tried to “game the system.” You know, things like competitors posting negatively about their competition. This led to more fear in the marketplace from businesses. Thankfully, this didn’t last that long.        

By 2013, things had settled down and we had a relatively stable year in 2014 to analyze, adapt and react. The course of action for a successful business in 2015 is becoming clear. You will need to understand how consumers are now searching for and finding you on the Internet.

Social media is here to stay. The reason it’s so popular is because it’s a two-way conversation and it’s not about you controlling it. It’s about the consumers talking to each other and validating their findings.

There’s no question that buying on the Internet is bigger than ever and is about to explode. If you don’t do business on the Internet today, you’re at a serious disadvantage. Every local decorating business has experienced a potential customer walk through the door with art he created via an online designer on an Internet competitor’s website. The thing is, he wants the work locally.

According to BIA/Kelsey and ConStat, 97% of consumers start their search for local purchasing online. They search for prices, styles, availability and so forth. When the initial recon is done, they move on to searching for reviews. Let’s suppose they find what they want at (fictitious name) and they love what they see. The next search is for “ Scam” or they go to and search for

They’re looking for validation across multiple rating sites giving the same star ratings. This is called Social Proof. The Nielsen Co. tracks this kind of thing and there are some big revelations in its 2013 Nielsen Online Trust Survey.

Check out the peer-to-peer validation chart (above) showing how consumers view the advertising message, and the channels through which they’re delivered.

The bottom line for all of us is the average consumer doesn’t trust a business they don’t know. If this is the case, what can we do to increase the trust level in the eyes of the people buying our services?

It’s really pretty simple. People buy from the companies they like, know and trust. Anything we can do to elevate our credibility in the communities in which we sell is good. The term “community” describes not only your physical location, but also the niche market communities to which you sell. They may vary geographically and not be local to where you produce.

This is the strategy big companies like CustomInk and TeeSpring successfully use. They have created a trusted brand and validated it in the marketplace. They have guarantees, get great reviews, and respond to positive and negative feedback. They are transparent in their messaging. How can you act like one of the big brands?

If you don‘t already have Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter accounts, set them up. Begin posting examples of your work. Tag them with niche keywords, locations, events, dates and so on. In 2015, people are going to find you from your social presence. It’s social media that’s now the main arena for consumer search.

If my niche were fun runs, a typical example might be: fun run T-shirts, 10K T-shirts, San Luis Obispo, Mitchell Park, Heart Association Family Walk, 2014. There’s a lot of tagged information in this and it’s all searchable. When you post a picture of the shirt, or the shirt at the event, people will interact with the post. All of the social media channels allow for likes, shares and comments. This provides social proof and encourages word-of-mouth sharing.

People now are searching not only for the product, but also for validation of who is providing the product or service. Your ability to compete moving forward will be based on how well you connect with your target market and how much they trust you. Trust is built upon reliability and expectation. The searches taking place around what you offer are about validating you.

Being found on the Internet in 2015 means you need to be on the Internet. Start by thinking like consumers think. It’s all about them. If your content, images and posts connect with your customers, you’ll get the shares, comments, ratings and traffic you need.

Mark A. Coudray has been an active member of the Academy of Screen Printing and Digital Technology since 1989, and has written for Impressions since 1978. For more information or to comment on this article, email him at — J. B.