Is Search evolving into Online Anthropology?

Fri 18 December 2009 16:00, Lisa D Myers

Is Search evolving into Online Anthropology?

We were very excited to have Lisa Myers join Searchcowboys as a columnist and ever since her first column, "Is Search evolving into Online Anthropology?" she hasn't dissapointed us. Her first column right away was a blast. She showed us that though search is technical, it is also human.

Is Search evolving into Online Anthropology?
First posted at January 27th 2009

First of all I just want to say how excited I’m to be in the Searchcowboys crew, I have been following the Searchcowboys blog ever since I met Bas at SMX in London back in November.  Hopefully I won’t disappoint.  So here I am, a Norwegian SEO Chick living in the UK blogging with the boys at searchcowboys. Yehaw!!

I’m fascinated by search marketing, both paid and organic and I think most search marketers can agree that search is much more than just the relationship between a website and the search engines. It’s about the relationship between:

  • The user and the search engine
  • The user and the keyword/s they use in the search engines
  • The search engines and your website
  • The user and your website

You could say that, initially, search is about an interaction between a potential buyer and a search engine, the interaction starting as a result of a keyword or combination of keywords. But the reality is that several external factors can have an impact already before this stage.  Other forms of marketing, such as TV, press, other online marketing or even WOM (word of mouth) can have a big impact on the user before they start searching. Knowing that you can influence these external factors is an important part of successful search marketing. The words people use when performing a search can be influenced and changed to your benefit.


Search Engine marketing, whether SEO or Paid search should be about generating relevant traffic that converts into business! Therefore our job needs to delve a bit deeper into which keywords needs to be presented to the searches in the correct time in the buying cycle and also which additional marketing efforts you can utilise to influence the search path of the user. The tendency to look at search purely from the perspective of  “what can we do to make sure that the search engines displays us first” is a common mistake, we cannot rely on “pre programmed” keywords and assume that for example someone looking for new office furniture will type in “office furniture”, see your result, click on it and convert. The user and their behaviour are far more complex.

Commonly it’s presumed the users search patch goes something like this:


Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately =) It’s very unlikely the path is that simple. It’s more likely to be something like this:


And the conversion at the end is highly speculative; in fact this might only be the journey of the first session. If a user is “buying” online it’s even likely they will come back at a later stage and their search query might be totally different based on the information and research they have gathered in previous searches. The point here is (and can you believe it, I actually have a point lol) that the user behaviour when it comes to the search engines are complex, not only when it comes to what search query (keyword/s) they use but also the method and the path they follow to arrive at the final goal.

Add on the additional challenge of targeting different countries where people are speaking different languages, cultural differences and online maturity you have a whole new world of research to do as well as knowledge to gain. The bottom line is: Search is no longer just about understanding the technical aspects of how to rank a website highly, it has become the knowledge of understanding the user and the paths they take - like online anthropology with a geeky twist ;p

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Comments (13)


  • Glad you're here to shed light on the human side of search, Lisa. :) As someone with a technical background I can sometimes get lost in the little technicalities of SEO and SEM, and I need a voice that reminds me that we're dealing with humans and their quirky behavior instead of predictable machines.

    Di 27 jan 2009, 17:22

  • Great article, Lisa! Search Marketing must be about anticipating on the intention of searchers (= people!) What are they searching for? What answers are they seeking? What is the intention they express in just a couple of words?

    Therefore you need to ask yourself: how can your listing(s) in search engines help searchers reaching (a part of) their goals?

    A humans search path is indeed much more complex than many people are thinking. With media fragmentation increasing, people are being exposed to more different messages through more different media channels every day.

    A big challenge for now and the coming years is to measure and to have insight into this cross media searcher behavior. The challenge after that is to learn from these insights and adjust all media activities to reach the maximum synergy.

    This is a tuff challenge, but from my experience at Outrider - search company of WPP media buying and planning arm GroupM - we know that measuring and integrating these cross media effects can results in huge effects in terms of ROI.

    Di 27 jan 2009, 21:03

  • Nice post. A good concept there of how something called perhaps 2nd degree referrals? A website inspires a refined keyword search that may or may not lead to your own. This sounds like a factor in competitor analysis, perhaps identifying where and why they drop off and what people will search for afterwards to zero in on what they need. And of course, the shaping of what people think they need via other on/off-line marketing.

    Di 27 jan 2009, 21:13

  • Great stuff Lisa ! I think it's important to know which keywords (as far if that's possible) belongs to which kind of visitors.

    People who knows exactely what they're looking for (or want/need) will use different kind of search terms for a similar product/service than people who doesn't know exactely.

    If the latter land on a page that is constructed for the first group there's a big chance they will bounce off.

    And even if people land on the 'right' page, it still depends what kind of personality he/she has. Are they able to make up their mind fast and decide yes or no or do they like to take their time and compare ?

    Keywords are the beginning of a conversation and it's very hard to get it right from the first second :o


    Wo 28 jan 2009, 00:19

  • Lisa,

    Im not a great fan of SOE or whatever its called and to be honest nice pictures but they were a little weird for ost people. HOWEVER, you are both blonde and Norwegian which gets the double thumbs up from non geeky people too.

    really glad to see you on a website i found while looking for a fancy dress outfit for a western party.

    Yours (Maybe one day if it worked out for you)


    Wo 28 jan 2009, 01:44

  • Hi Lisa, nice approach on search. Your article best describes the next steps in search. It kind of follows up on the article i wrote this week.
    Search definitely is not only about high positions anymore. Its about getting visitors to do those things on your website you want them to do. To be able to, you need to understand the environment: your website, the search engines, the visitors and that one thing that combines them all in this context: the keyword.

    Thanks for spreading this information, as it will be very useful for many (online) marketeers (except Aston ;-))

    Wo 28 jan 2009, 08:19

  • Lis,
    This post thoroughly explored all the relationships a person has with their query, thanks for opening my eyes!

    Wo 28 jan 2009, 10:30

  • Thanks for the comments everyone. Although the random comments from Aston were ehm slightly weird. Did he actually read the entire post even though he was looking for a cowboy outfit for a fancy dress party? So much for relevant search paths lol

    Hey Bas we should do a comparision on who gets the most random referring traffic and what keywords they use, Searchcowboys Vs SEO Chicks. SEO Chicks had loads of traffic from terms such as "male escort" related terms as Julie used it in a heading of a blogpost lol

    Di 10 feb 2009, 10:38

  • Lisa,
    Thanks for the interesting post, agree with all above about how the human element can tend to get lost, and your thoughts about the complexity of the thought process. From a marketing perspective, it's important to bear in mind that it's not just about matching up the searcher with a meaningful result, but also about creating a landing page experience that's relevant enough to them that the odds of conversion go way up. To make that happen successfully, the data that drives the outbound media and the inbound search needs to be fully integrated.

    Di 31 mrt 2009, 19:50

  • hello well im irish and what the weather like in london no only joking just surfing and you blog caught my eye the bit about sitting in a cafe with your blackberry gosh thats so english lol and i love that about the race accross the water interesting people always on the move and never leave the office behind well im goint to leave a book mark on this so come back to me and tell me wahts the latest to do things in your big smoke of a place you call home


    Di 6 okt 2009, 00:24

  • An interesting & enjoyable post. It's always refreshing to hear someone looking beyond search engine ranking for increasing online sales. It's not always about who's got the top spot on Google, sometimes a website can benefit more by using creative marketing based on careful research and analysis of online human behaviour.


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