Search Engines: Leeches on the Web


Jakob Nielson, usability and web guru and all around good linkbait marketer, recently wrote on the effect search engines have on the web:

I worry that search engines are sucking out too much of the Web's value, acting as leeches on companies that create the very source materials the search engines index.

In the long run, every time companies increase the value of their online businesses, they end up handing over all that added value to the search engines. Any gain is temporary; once competing sites improve their profit-per-visitor enough to increase their search bids, they'll drive up everybody's cost of traffic.

He is totally correct too. When I started my other blog the CPC and search volume were nothing, like literally. As I branded the hell out of term now there are thousands of searches a month for it and the ads cost way more than they used to.

My example of my other blog might be bad, as search created that market, but there are many other markets that search engines add little value to while extracting massive profits.


He's onto something

>> I predict that liberation from search engines will be one of the biggest strategic issues for websites in the coming years

I'll put money on that.


Jakob Nielson, usability and web guru and all around good linkbait marketer

Is here a guru because he knows how to use linkbait or the other way around?

He's not on to anything

He who holds the keys to the car - drives it! He who has the traffic - sells it. This is about ownership of traffic/user retention and that is the key to the car.

Search engines are the defacto way of finding things online. Until people find another way to seek content online then everyone else is just S.O.L. You can have the best content in the world but if people don't know it exists then you might as well pack your bags and go home.

Search has become an online traffic monolopy. Until something better comes along then expect to settle for what they can drive your way - on their terms - not yours.

Harsh reality - but reality nonetheless.

Is here a guru because he

Is here a guru because he knows how to use linkbait or the other way around?

I think one enhances the other, and he is certainly great at both.

>Harsh reality - but reality

>Harsh reality - but reality nonetheless.<

I disagree and I also believe Jacob is absolutely, 100% right. This also goes hand-in-hand with Mike Grehans Clikz article today

It's all about effective marketing. Not search engine marketing or even online marketing. Rather it's about PEOPLE marketing.

Furthermore, I believe those who think search engines rule because they have the traffic, are doomed. The search engines have not TAKEN the keys to our cars, we have HANDED them over to them and we can take them back if we don't convince ourselves that we have no choice.

The funny thing about this

The funny thing about this is that Jacob is the King of Semantics and your post is the same massa...
People Marketing???? Okay yes we have not slipped into the alien or machine marketing age so the end audience of any marketing is people.... the method of the marketing is really how you describe the type of marketing not by the end audience per se.
Effective marketing is just that marketing that works well.
Online marketing covers an umbrella of areas....
Search Marketing covers an aspect of that... one that seems to be growing fairly quickly... to think there will be a revolution to overthrow it is posting to elict controversy.... and see it works you got me to post a long reply....

Hey the revolution is only another T-Shirt away.... go to CafePress and start one!!!

This article is lame.

In the long run, every time companies increase the value of their online businesses, they end up handing over all that added value to the search engines.

That doesn't even make sense. If your improvements only benefit search engines, then you didn't make much of an improvement at all.

Isn't the entire point of a web site to bring back repeat visitors? Hasn't that *been* the point the whole time? Or am I just really anal retentive?

Isn't the entire point of a

Isn't the entire point of a web site to bring back repeat visitors? Hasn't that *been* the point the whole time?

he actually goes on to talk about how to ween yourself off search engine dependency and writes:

The real goal is to make users come back, and to have them come directly to your site instead of clicking on expensive ads.

personally i dont really agree with his argument -- search engines positioned themselves to be as close to the user as possible, and so reap advantages in markets that now grab more user's just good marketing, IMHO, so i dont see how its unfair.

We handed them over and already signed the title!

Massa, I agree that effective marketing can play a huge role in success. Ultimately that is not my point. Sure companies can amass traffic through good content, branding, etc. If they know what the hell they are doing, which the vast majority don't.

My point is that search engines are in control of the aggrigation of the marketing efforts online, and the end user has been trained to go to them in order to find what they need. The majority of traffic online will stay there (as I said prior) until something better comes along.

The best people marketing I ever saw on the web was pulled off by a company called Google. To this day they do very little to promote their cause directly. They rely on the voracious appetite of the press, bloggers, and the average Joe schmoe, and web marketers/advertisers to get the word out. We may never see another case of people marketing like it in our lifetime.

People marketing is all fine and good but it will never hand back the keys to the car (for the vast majority of people online) as long as those people are habitually using search.

As Mike Grehan ends the article himself:

The end user is in control at search engines. Not search optimizers.

I'd add to that and say it is the engines that control what our users see.

Try to build an online presence without search - no search traffic at all - see how far you can go with people marketing these days. Not only will it take ages but the shelf life will be relatively short lived if you aren't 100% on top of your game. No company I know of has the time to wait for profits to be driven by people marketing alone... sans the EXTREMELY rare exception, like Google.

Sounds like physical real estate

I live near the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, CA, and rents there have been going up ever since the landlord first developed the mall back in the 70's. **Talking about physical stores and the physical locations they lease separately ignores the fact that neither existed in the first place without the other.** The same is true for websites, and any consideration of this dynamic must acknowledge that search engines have been THE #1 SOURCE OF TRAFFIC for most websites since 2000.

The price websites pay for that increased traffic is increased dependence on search engines. I suspect the C-level execs at most ecommerce companies understand this and take it to mean simply that they need to increase their monetization rates faster than the cost of ownership of keywords.

RealNames tried to give brands ownership of their brand traffic on reasonable terms, but unfortunately AOL wouldn't jump on board; had they you would've seen brand terms working as direct navigation in the browser address bar. Until some startup comes along with a web-wide direct navigation system that helps users better navigate *and* costs much less than search, search is where it's at.


Jakob Nielson is a leech

Ever see the prices for his seminars?
Come on buddy, can you spare a 401k plan?

Search engines are to the internet what yellow pages are to the phones and they didnt give away good ads in the yellow pages, nor do they in tv, radio, newspapers or magazines.

For some reason everyone thinks the internet should be free or real cheap (wishful thinking) and what everyone is missing is as the ad dollar paradigm shifts from traditional media to the internet it's the advertisers running up the prices out bidding each other, nobody else, so don't cry about the high prices as you outbid someone so he'll outbid you.

Bidding for ad space always was and always will be a vicious circle ever since and any moron can see it's a no win scenario.

Overall, I agree you need to get off PPC ads if you can, static ad prices like AdBrite sells is more economical at the moment and I still love organic search but his examples left me wanting.

Did anyone bother reading his "Liberating Websites From Search Engines" tripe?

Email newsletters - so people that sign up can scream at you for sending them spam (people are stupid, I repeat this a lot) or rat you out to GoDaddy and get your domain suspended, this is fun.

Request marketing - people ask me for things not even related to my web site all the time, remember: people are stupid, listen to your customers if they make any sense

Affiliate programs - this is another technique you can't wean yourself off unless you host it yourself, and thanks to many people not allowing these cookies the affiliates are cheated all the time which is why many turned to AdSense and YPN in the first damn place - naive Jacob

Newsfeeds - assuming you have news, other than new products, which is basically a rehash of "Email newsletters" but the first day someone complains I'm spamming on my RSS feed is the day someone gets to die, but I digress. Newsfeeds appear to be only used by the geekiest at the moment, the average joe doesn't seem to get it yet, too bleeding edge.

Stick your URL onto any physical product - yup, that'll impress people and I'd probably ship it back as I dont want "" on my stapler, computer, monitor or anything else - talk about driving someone to become an axe murderer.

Mobile features - most companies wouldn't know where to start, nice pie in the sky there Jacob.

My god Bill

That was an incredible rant. Do you do stand up as well?

Do you do stand up as well?

When I pee.

Might've been a bit more coherent too had I not got up at 6 am to hear Howard Stern's opening day on Sirius with a lively "Also Sprach Zarathustra" done entirely in farts.

Bill.. Man that's awesome

I haven't laughed so hard in a week.

As I've said many times

As I've said many times before, we are all free to believe whatever we want to believe. If you choose to believe that it's all about semantics that is your right and I totally respect that.

For me, I choose to believe that there are many people involved in this particular discussion whom I have a great deal of respect for. Both for their intelligence and their willingness to share. In that vein, I respect Mr. Neilsen a great deal. He is a very smart person who has done a lot for a lot of people. In my opinion, he is a person not to be discarded lightly.

I also don't believe it is merely semantics. I believe he is trying to make a point that he honestly feels will help some. The same as I don't believe my labeling people marketing, (while undoubtedly trite), was anything other than trying to illustrate a difference in what is commonly seen within this industry as search engine marketing.

Since we're all free to think what we want, I won't go into this any further to avoid anyone thinking I'm just wanting to argue. I certainly do not. But I will tell you all one little scecret that I've used more than once and got a new site placed within a few days.

While I was at the SEO roadshow, I had the pleasure of staying with some friends. Some of you who were there may remember him as I invited him to the hotel bar. Anyway, he has a client, who claims to not have any budget for advertising blah, blah blah, (We've all heard it before), that was almost finished with his new site. My friend wanted to know what he could do to help this client without having to raise his rates. I've heard those kind of statements so many times I have no sympathy for people who make them BUT, I did want to help my friend who is fairly new to the world of web promotion.

The clients site was new although about 3 months old being built, BUT without a single inbound link and of course, not anywhere on any engine.

While I was there, we got him a couple of inbounds to get his site spidered, (and it did within 48 hours by all 3), and then I had my friend take little yellow sticky notes and post them in the mens room at the train station above the urinals and in the stalls,(commuters being people likely to be able to afford computers). He posted about 15 on a Thursday afternoon. The post it notes said
(the domian name did have the basic term in the name which makes me assume it was getting searched for)

By Monday morning, the site had 180 visits, (here may be a biggee),but no additional inbound links except from emails. Tuesday he started getting referrals from Google and MSN and by Friday he was on the first page of both engines for many of his target terms. Yahoo came in 3 weeks later.

Now it's been almost 3 months, the client has about 120 inbound links and he gets about 1,000 a day. Granted it's not a terribly competitive term but is one that is highly coveted by his competitors. He's not getting rich but he is making a pretty good second income.

I'm not telling anyone to spam bathrooms. I'm merely making a point that maybe thinking differently and thinking in terms of something other than tech may offer some alternative view points to this debate. I'm not sure putting up post-it notes in toilets is people marketing, but I'm also not sure it isn't search engine marketing.

You don't have to be a fortune 500 company. You don't have to wait 9 months. Mom and pops can compete. You don't have to have a multi-million dollar budget. You don't need 1,000,000 links. You don't have to have a PR 9 link. You don't have to cloak or scrape, (although it seems to help). All you have to do is get the attention of search engines and give them that warm and fuzzy. There are a lot more ways of doing that other than writing another autogen script, (altough it seems to help).

The way my friend did it was to do what Mike Grehan was telling us. He was using pull. By getting 200 or so people going to the site, searching for the terms and then telling other people about it, (we are having to make some pretty big assumptions here), it is telling the search enigne that people are wanting this stuff from this place and if you don't have it, we'll look somewhere else. Now, if what Jacob is telling us has any validity at all,(and it does), search engines can not take the chance of anyone going anywhere else.

I knew about that little trick because I've used it before. I saw my first url post-it note in a hotel elevator in Kuala Lumpur, Maylasia in 2001. That one had something in arabic and a .com url. I asked our host what the words said and he told me it said "talk to god" and then the url. I've forgtten what the url was long since, but I did remember thinking that was probably pretty effective in terms of cost vs. return. And that was before any dicussion of rectangular wooden frames containing dirt.

I won't belabor the point because I'm sure I've given plenty to get myself roasted pretty good.

massa, Not gonna roast ya. I


Not gonna roast ya. I think thats f*ing genius.

I won't belabor the point

I won't belabor the point

That was said waaaay too late..


now blog conferences are going to be plastered with stickies. Someone should do it with bar codes to get the CueCat enthusiasts.

Pretty Hilarious

Funny indeed, the key here was the reverse psychology part of the bathroom spam.

I see a lot of spray painted graffity for a hip hop site around where I live. I imagine it is pretty effective in reaching the target audience.

In any case, this kind of spam is only effective if there is a small amount of spammers, as soon as the particular venue gets overcrowded, people tune it out.

CueCats... Does anyone still


Does anyone still use those?

Bathroom graffitti

This one I love... it is like the Do Not Go To that was an actual campaign done on sides of buses where it looked like someone had graffitti-ed over a regular billboard

Google Pulling our legs?

Like I heard once, every joke is half the truth! The problem is to find out which half between pulling and pushing. Some of the best things in life also just comes down to pulling and pushing... Viral/guerilla marketing vs SEO. The problem is still, if you're making a big splash (say 5000 people visiting in a week other than normal traffic) about a site that has 10 million other sites in competition, do you really have a chance of getting to the top?

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