5 Recent Changes in the Way Search Engines Work… and What They Mean to Your Small Business

For a lot of businesses, finding clients over the Internet begins and ends with search engines. By atomizing their sites for particular terms and phrases, they have been able to build up a steady march of new buyers coming to their virtual doorstep 24 hours a day.

If your company has been one of them, we congratulate you-you have obviously been doing something right for a while. But we also want to warn you: search is changing, and if you aren't changing with it, those buyers might soon be shopping elsewhere.

Here are five recent changes in the way search engines work, and what they mean to your small business:

Local search is exploding

For many years, search engines and printed directories like the Yellow Pages were able to coexist peacefully simply because they cater to different markets. One was for buying books or shoes at rock-bottom prices, while the other was a great way to pick out a restaurant down the street.

That's just not the case anymore. As numerous media outlets reported last year, more people now turn to the Internet than any other source to find vendors and retailers-even in their own communities. This trend is so pervasive that search engines have started incorporating geographical elements into results even when users haven't directly requested them. Don't blame them, though; they are just catering to market demand.

What does this mean to your business? It means that your site doesn't just need to be optimized for industry terms or product names, but also the places in which you operate. Buyers are going to continue looking for local results, so be sure they can find you when they do.

Search engines aren't just showing pages anymore

Although most people still go to sites like Google and Yahoo to find web pages, they are now given the option of viewing videos, social media profiles, breaking news items, and a lot more.

For small businesses, this is both a blessing and a curse. More types of search results means increased competition for every spot, but also presents new opportunities to market through video, press releases, and other formats.

Autocomplete is shifting traffic to the top results

If you haven't noticed, Google is no longer content to simply show you what you're looking for-now they want to see if they can't anticipate your search terms to start with. Using their wildly popular "auto complete" feature, they show possible search terms and update results while you're still typing your search term in the window.

How do they guess what you're trying to search for? By looking at what other people have searched for in the past. This might seem like a minor detail, but it has the effect of making the most popular searches and sites even more popular. To keep searchers coming to your site, make sure you pay attention to the most important key phrases and optimize your pages accordingly.

Site warnings are pushing scared searchers away

As part of its ongoing web crawl, Google spiders have started looking at which sites have very outdated software or potentially malicious links. These sites will get a warning displayed next to them in the search results. To avoid being punished and labeled as a potential problem, make sure someone on your team is keeping your pages and hosting software up to date.

People aren't going to search engines at all

Ok, this last one isn't technically about search engines themselves, but it does affect your search engine strategy. Here's why: overloaded with results, lots of buyers are skipping Google and Bing altogether, going instead to sites like Facebook and LinkedIn where they can get buying recommendations from their friends and colleagues.

That makes it more important than ever to have a presence on these sites, and one that includes lots of quotes and testimonials from happy buyers. With social media sites connecting friends and colleagues in unprecedented ways, it truly is becoming the biggest form of "word-of-mouth advertising" your business can take advantage of.

Search is changing, but for savvy business owners and marketing managers, that doesn't have to be a bad thing. Stay on top of the latest trends by reading articles like this one and then make adjustments to your plan. You might just find that, rather than holding you back, new ideas in search let you leave the competition back in your customer's distant browsing history.



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