How the consumer is impacting search engine optimisation

David BainForget generic search terms, today’s consumer is more likely to get social recommendations and hone their target before they hit Google and brands need to take notice says David Bain in a piece that first appeared in Encore.

Nine years is a long time on the internet. In 2004, 11.5 per cent of the world’s population was online. By December 2012 that figure had increased to more than 34 per cent, or more than 2.4 billion people. 

Yet despite this surge in internet usage, Google is reporting a significant drop in the popularity of many common search terms. According to Google Trends, there has been a 400 per cent decrease in popularity for the search term ‘hotels’ over the past nine years.

seo hotel search

seo hotel deals

This drop is too steep to just be an industry slowdown. In fact, many other generic search terms in other industries are following a similar downward trend.

Each year the world’s internet population continues to grow and Google is still the number one site in the world, so we’re not seeing a reduction in the popularity of search as a medium. Rather, what is happening is that online consumers are now more selective in how they search – not surprisingly they are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

So why are consumers changing their online search habits?

Specialist websites such as niche booking sites and limited-time sale sites allow consumers to go elsewhere to find what they are looking for – and often at a better price.

Thanks to the emergence of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, web users are now able to quickly and easily ask for recommendations from their friends rather than rely on search engines.

Search engines themselves are changing the types of results they deliver. Last year Google introduced Search Plus Your World, which shook up search results by enhancing them with personalised results. This sped up the change in consumer search behaviour.

However, that is not to say that all Google searches are decreasing in popularity. People still tend to rely on search engines to look for specific deals, categories or locations of items. For example, they are now increasingly searching for the term ‘hotel deals’.

As consumers now have more places to go, and as they become more comfortable at being able to conduct online research without the help of search engines, search engines have to take more signals into account when it comes to determining the ranking of web pages.

What we are seeing relates more to the evolution of the internet as a whole, and the increased level of sophistication of the average internet user. Users are now more likely to first refer to other websites – or ask people they trust – before making up their minds which niche area of the generic topic really interests them.

Only then, after feeling comfortable with which niche area is relevant to them, will the average internet user revert to a search engine to further enhance their knowledge. And more importantly, consumers are now becoming increasingly likely to stick with a brand they know and trust, combined with asking their friend’s opinion on what they should do.

Five years ago it was relatively easy for a search engine optimisation firm to position a website towards the top of Google organic results for highly searched, popular keyword terms.

Now it’s not so easy – and not necessarily as rewarding.

Search engine optimisation is now firmly part of the marketing mix – and needs to be thought of alongside website design, brand positioning and content production. Building a brand that people love and want to evangelise is a large part of effective SEO. If people search for ‘hotel deals’ and they don’t like what they find, the short time they spend on your site will send a negative signal to Google – and you won’t be ranked for that keyword phrase for long.

Clearly, the increasingly sophisticated consumer is having a significant impact on SEO due to the precise nature of their searches and the actions they take while on a website. This is causing a few headaches for SEO firms, but if it has a positive impact on the quality of search results, then surely it’s a good thing.

In short, move with the times. This isn’t something that’s going away and agencies that continue to focus on the increasingly unrewarding ‘head terms’ will discover that their initial internet land grab is starting to erode.

Professional SEO agencies will need to be business consultants to their clients in the future. That means getting under the skin of what their business is about – fully understanding their product and service range and the psychology of their customers. Agencies will need to be at the cutting edge of multi-touch attribution modelling, ensuring their clients understand the true long-term value of specific keyword phrases.

Now, and more so in the future, the best keywords will be those that convert at the highest ratios over the long term – not the ones that deliver the most website visitors. A quick visit from an irrelevant visitor just sends out a negative message to search engines. That old adage ‘turnover is vanity, profit is sanity’ will apply to websites more and more in the future.

David Bain is the SEO manager at MEC.


Encore issue 5

This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit for a preview of the app or click below to download.


  1. Chris
    18 Mar 13
    3:19 pm

  2. Nice article David. I think as people have become more comfortable with searching, & how a search engine works, their thought patterns & methodology for finding information has changed.

    It’s like in the old days, when you were young & first used a library, you would go in & go to the librarian & ask for help finding a certain book, however as you learned to understand how books were sorted, you could become competent at finding your own books.. using long-tail search terms if you will.

  3. James Norquay
    19 Mar 13
    9:41 am

  4. Nice piece David, the thing is too many agency’s out their are still out dated with their methodology. I have met with many clients over the years where the prior agency has only told them to worry about 3 head keywords. They have clearly not research into what is converting for the business and or what is increasing or declining in search volume over time.

  5. Richard Moss
    19 Mar 13
    10:38 am

  6. This is an interesting article.

    I feel that search engines have an inherent problem. They are rather like throwing a dart at a dart board, you know where you want to land, so you aim carefully and throw, but in the case of the search engine dart board, the face is constantly changing, so by the time the arrow reaches its target, the space may have altered.

    I am finding that specific details are becoming less and less effective where search engines are concerned. They seem to broaden the range and give me alternatives I do not require. There are also many blind alleys these days, confusing specific requests with general Blog opinions etc.

    Then again, perhaps they are getting smarter as I get older.