Earn More with LinkConnector

Natural Search Engine Results and Website Consulting

Earn More with LinkConnector

You scroll down past the banner ads and enter your search term. You pass the "sponsored results" without a glance. You ignore the shaded results to the right and the additional "sponsored results" at the bottom. Hiding somewhere in the middle, you finally find your results.

Welcome to the world of natural search- where mom-and-pop shops compete with million-dollar companies, and million-dollar companies compete with billion-dollar corporations. And while many will argue to the contrary, the playing field is more or less level. Small companies can and do dominate their behemoth competitors in this world for various reasons.

What Is Natural Search?

For those who aren't entirely clear what the term means, "natural" or "organic" search describes the "editorial" search results on any particular engine. These results are purported to be completely non-biased - meaning that the machine will not accept any amount of money to influence the rankings of any individual sites. This is quite different from the paid advertising in "sponsored" or "featured" results, in which higher positions are rewarded to the companies willing to pay the most per visitor.

Why Is Natural Search Important?

Savvy searchers who understand the difference between paid and natural results are more likely to hold the raw results in higher regard, much like a person reading a magazine would probably be more positively influenced by an article about a particular company than by a paid advertisement from the company.
It is also likely that natural search will become more critical in the coming months. Yahoo's new Site Match program, which mixes some paid results with natural results, is sure to get some scrutiny from the FTC (even though the fees paid are not supposed to influence rankings). This type of public attention will undoubtedly educate some oblivious users about what "sponsored results" actually are. More importantly, other search engines are likely to use this as a means of differentiation from Yahoo. It is no coincidence that Ask Jeeves announced that it was getting rid of its similar program the day after Yahoo's new program was unveiled, claiming that it was impossible to produce unbiased results using this methodology. Microsoft also recently claimed that they were taking steps to differentiate paid results from natural results further. No matter the result, one probable outcome of this new attention to paid search engine advertising is that more average searchers will learn the differences between paid and natural search results, and many will instinctively favor the latter.

What Advantages Do Huge Corporations Have?

Indeed, large companies do have some specific advantages when it comes to natural search.
a. Links- the primary advantage that large corporations have is their ability to obtain large amounts of inbound links, which can have a significant impact on search engine rankings. Often these links are given freely without the company asking (or being aware that it is happening). Many of the vast corporation's vendors, affiliates, partners, etc., are eager to show their association with the company and link to the corporate site readily and non-reciprocally. Large corporations can also facilitate considerable increases in link popularity through a simple corporate policy requiring inbound links from companies wishing to work with them. In addition, large corporations may have several websites, which can sometimes be effectively linked together for additional link popularity.

b. Budget- although history shows that a large percentage of major corporations do not spend wisely in this arena, more giant corporations typically have larger marketing budgets than their smaller competitors. However, this does not necessarily mean that they will readily allocate a portion of that budget for search engine optimization, as discussed below.

What Advantages Do Smaller Companies Have?

While the advantages of giant corporations, particularly in link popularity, can be challenging to overcome, it is often unnecessary to try. A large percentage of such companies consistently seem to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to natural search engine optimization, a primary reason small companies can often outperform them. Specific advantages include:

An a. A willingness to pursue the channel- Smaller companies are typically more willing to devote resources to natural search than large corporations. Tremendous things must happen for a major corporation to get involved in this "new" channel, a channel far removed from the traditional marketing methodologies used to build the giant. Few corporate underlings want to be the ones to put their neck on the line and recommend something completely new and "unproven." Even when a large corporation looks into natural search engine optimization as a potential marketing tool, it can take many months, and sometimes years, for a final decision to be made.

b. A willingness to change the company website- Huge corporations face similar problems when changing their corporate website. Within such entities, a person can often not get so much as a comma removed from the text of a secondary page without holding several upper-level management meetings and, ultimately, making a board presentation. Smaller, leaner companies can approve necessary website changes more quickly and are almost always more willing to adapt rapidly to the needs of visitors and search engines.

c. The willingness to outsource- Larger companies have more internal resources at their disposal and are less likely to outsource this specialized service to someone with proven experience. Often, search engine optimization is treated as an afterthought and dumped on an IT person, who typically has too much to do and will approach the problem solely from a technical standpoint. Natural search engine optimization is, by necessity, a combination of marketing and technology. Newcomers to the field (especially those who treat the discipline as strictly a technical issue) often make mistakes that, at best, do not get results and, at worst, put sites at risk of penalization.

d. A lack of technical hurdles- Huge corporations are more likely to have technical issues on their website that can prevent search engines from indexing all of their pages. Often the pages of corporate websites are generated "on the fly" from large databases, and such pages (without modification to the URLs) are sometimes never indexed. In addition, (although usability studies are making this happen less often), some giant corporations have their sites built entirely in a flash or use other technologies that are virtually invisible to search engines.

The Bottom Line

To most huge corporations, search engine optimization is often a tiny piece of an enormous puzzle - and it is a piece they have been doing without for years. The necessary steps to fully embrace the channel are often enough to stop any well-intentioned initiative. As most search engine optimization experts will tell you, some of the most egregious search engine mistakes are consistently made by household name companies - leaving their smaller, leaner competitors the opportunity to take full advantage.
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