Search Engine Results and E-Commerce: is the dream coming to a end?

Having worked at the sharp end of developing e-commerce practices for over 15 years, I have witnessed the changing relationship Google, Bing, Yahoo et al have had with businesses trying to make a living selling goods online.

Here’s a short tale giving some insight into what has happened, and more importantly, where things are going next!

A little history: first there was the honeymoon period, where any website had a chance to rise to the top of the organic rankings (there was no “non-organic” back then!). With a few well placed keyterms (even keywords!), some hard work and some common sense, your site had a good chance of getting into those vital first pages.

That was long ago.

The cat-and-mouse battle between Search Engines and SEO companies has been well established for some time. Content versus keyterms vs inbound links vs internal links and on ad nauseam, with each one using a different system and all of them secret. For every new trick like keyword stuffing (putting in misleading or too many keywords) or hidden content (content that is invisible to readers but not search engines), the Search Engines developed a countermeasure with one goal: returning trsutworthy search results to browsers.

For those who persevered, success in the organic rankings in Google for their products could mean a significant success story in sales.

Then in 2000 Google launched Adwords – the Pay-Per-Click model had arrived, meaning although you couldn’t pay to get to the top of the organic listings, you could pay to appear on the same page. Around 2005, Google started getting a bit more serious with Adwords, revamping its offering and encouraging more marketers and SEO agencies to train up as Adword professionals.

To the merchant this new channel was an extra opportunity to exploit, and also an extra headache and one more new thing to learn how to manage. Get it right and you could do well. Get it wrong and you could spend an awful lot of money for little result.

We then had Froogle, where merchants could submit a feed of their products to appear in a free price-comparison section of Google’s website. This proved successful, particularly for small merchants as they could compete on yet another playing field, that was slightly more level.

Fast forward to 2012 when Google announced the launch of Google Shopping, converting the Froogle/Google Products free-to-list model to a pay-to-play model. Now big business with big budgets could out-bid the smaller merchants in competitive markets.

Google is also delivering dynamic remarketing, serving up customised adverts across their vast ad and search network tailored specifically to the device (mobile, tablet, laptop, tv) they are viewed upon, based on what you’ve already looked at.

Throughout all this progression two facts stand out: Google has to remain a worthwhile search engine to use, otherwise people would search elsewhere and its dominance would go, and Google has been creating useful and innovative free, search channels and then effectively monetizing them.

The e-commerce retailer is left with a fragmenting marketplace which is being monetized before their eyes. They have to pay more to compete in already competitive markets, diluting their effectiveness and increasing marketing costs. Add to this the additional problems of learning and administering these new channels, staying on trend for their products/markets and continually managing the spend to ensure the best return on investment.

So where next?

The march into more and more fragmented marketplaces and marketing channels will continue apace. There are new and emerging web/mobile sites and applications that are allowing “customers” to access information on products in new and exciting ways. There will be extinctions of existing platforms as well – Myspace anyone? The waning of web application popularity is one of the Internet’s certainties, but there will always be something newer and better vying for attention.

And wherever the consumers focus their attention, there will be a steady stream of web companies waiting there, ready monetize it somehow.

What does the e-commerce merchant have to do to be successful?

We’ll cover more of that in our upcoming articles, however, I’ll finish by answering the question posed in the title.

Is the SEO dream coming to a end?

No. It’s changing shape and form, becoming more fragmented, but Search Engines MUST deliver search, for as long as their revenue streams are based around those results. If the results are inaccurate, or unhelpful, people will use other search engines.

Arguably it is the same as it has always been: provide fresh, regularly updated and useful content and a well-coded and well-structured website and you should thrive. Try to manipulate your way to the top, and eventually something will change.

Internet retailers have to embrace the fragmenting market place. Hunt out those niches you can exploit with your unique message, products and services.

Remember: The business of “doing business” remains the same. The psychology of the sale remains very similar.  It’s the medium of delivery that’s changing.

Start exploring these new avenues and try to get there before your competitors, or employ a reliable team of experts with a proven track record to deliver results on your behalf!