Whether you were viewing a fashion blog, technology support forum or online store; there is almost one thing that was certain.
You entered the page using a search engine.
Seen as the oracles of the Web, search engines provide searchers a list of websites that they deem as most relevant to the keyword or phrases entered (Zhao & Tse, 2012).
So how exactly did we get to where we are now?
The first tool used for searching on the Internet was “Archie”. Created in 1990, the tool downloaded directory listings of all the files located on sites that were public and anonymous.
These sites were known as File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites. The program would form a searchable database of all these files. Due to the constraint of not being able to index the content of these sites, the tool was replaced by new search programs such Veronica, Jughead and Jump Station (Seymour, Frantsvog & Kumar, 2011).
These programs experienced limitations where searchers were only able to search for titles and headings in webpages. In response to this, WebCrawler was created and became the first search engine to provide full text search which meant that it was able to index every word on a web page. (Whoishostingthis.com,2018)
However, with these premature search engines having many limitations, marketers began using hacking practices and leverage keyword stuffing and spammy links to rank higher in search results.
Before becoming Google, this program was different from all of its predecessors. Its main proposition was to use backlinks as a measurement for authority in search engines. If web pages mentioned another webpage, BackRub would count this practice as a “vouch” and reward them by improving their presence on search engines (Alexander, 2017).
This gave life to Google and PageRank.
Check this infographic that summarises the entire history and evolution of search engines.
The Turning Point
And this was where Google saw an opportunity.
It wanted to provide an algorithm that rewarded quality, relevant content to connect users with what they really want to find. The PageRank algorithm ranked web links by the link’s popularity and relevance.
Why was this so important?
For the first time, search engines began to focus on providing quality results to the users and enforced guidelines for content producers around quality. It gave birth to what we now know as search engine optimisation (SEO) which refers to utilising appropriate use of keywords to generate organic rankings for webpages. Marketers and other relevant content producers now had to respond to this change in landscape for how they were to receive organic traffic.
Just as SEO skills were being learnt, Google launched Adwords.
The tool is based on the mechanics of pay-per-click (PPC), where advertisers are required to pay a fee to Google each time one of their ads is clicked.
This was the beginning of search engine inequality.
The Basics of SEO and PPC: How It Works
As you may have realised, there are two main types of ways going about operating on search engines:
- organically through search engine optimisation
- sponsored through pay per click campaigns
Essentially, when someone searches using a keyword on a search engine, they are presented with two different types of lists of search results — a list of organic results and a list of sponsored results. An example can be seen below:
Search Engine Optimisation
Stated previously, search engine optimisation involves the process of “altering websites” (Visser & Weidemann, 2014). This altering is undertaken by “data observation and marketing research to identify the most suitable keyword for a website” (Kritzinger & Weideman, 2015).
By carefully choosing keywords, the ultimate aim of SEO is to increase a website’s ranking with search engines to subsequently increase traffic to the website and for e-commerce business, generate sales revenue.
To find out more about how SEO works, check out this step by step guide compiled by one of the most notable online marketers. When carried out correctly, there many benefits of SEO as discussed by Titan Growth.
SEO Expert Brand presents us a neat summary of ways SEO can benefit a small business!
Similar to SEO, pay-per-click campaigns place emphasis on keyword relevance which means researching appropriate keywords and phrases is crucial. As the name suggests, the advertiser is charged each time an Internet user clicks on the respective advertisement.
Pay Per Click
In contrast to SEO, engines such as Google would rank PPC results in order of bid prices. According to Brick Marketing (2018), bid prices are contingent on keyword popularity and competition from other advertisers, meaning that the more popular the targeted keywords, the higher the PPC bid needs to be to secure space on search engine pages.
With Google reporting ad revenues totalling more than $62 billion in 2014 (Marvin, 2015), there is no reason not to believe the benefits for businesses and content creators to start implementing Google Adwords.
For more fun facts, check out the infographic Google put together to commemorate AdWords’ 15th birthday!
In fact, Google heavily advocates their online course on Adwords which is FREE and accessible to anyone with a Google account.
Which is better?
Now that it has been established PPC is quite effective, you’re probably beginning to wonder if it is better than the organic natural SEO.
In evaluating the impact of both SEO and PPC on the profits of an e-commerce business, Malaga (2007) found that PPC campaigns failed to produce favourable return on investments, thus concluding SEO efforts are a “more cost effective search engine marketing mechanism”.
These findings are reinforced by Kritzinger and Weideman’s (2015) comparison in website traffic generated by SEO and PPC campaigns. The results reveal that traffic volume during the SEO period had bypassed the highest level achieved during the PPC period after only three months of running on SEO.
Extending upon this, they discovered that the main disadvantage of PPC is that expenditure has to be consistent for results to appear as the moment a PPC budget is cut, traffic drops to zero immediately. Thus, it was concluded that “an investment in SEO rather than a PPC campaign appears to produce better results at a lower cost, after a given period of time”.
In a separate study in 2017, the authors found that SEO produces a much lower cost per acquisition (CPA) across all three websites that were tested which makes it the more cost-effective choice of strategy. Whilst recommending that most of a company’s budget should be spent on SEO, Kritzinger and Weideman (2015) suggested that pay-per-click campaigns could be the better options in certain cases such as when immediate results are needed.
Check out this quick infographic by SABASeo that summarises the differences between SEO and PPC!
So with the findings conducted by Kritzinger and Weideman, this means that businesses and content creators who cannot afford to run PPC campaigns and Google Adwords are still at an advantage. Right…?
Not the case unfortunately.
According to Visser and Weideman’s (2014) study on the impact of website usability on SEO, there was clear finding that website usability was a major factor in improving search engine page results.
Such empirical evidence is reinforced by Zhang and Cabage (2017) who found that the site structure and user experience (UX) design has a direct correlation with building and social sharing which increases site traffic and SEO leads.
This sounds feasible for small organisations to achieve right?
Yes, but they are still at a disadvantage against the big organisations who have access to the tools that are available through paid options – as exemplified by InVision below.
Who owns the search engine landscape?
Whilst the findings reveal that SEO is more cost-effective than PPC and gives smaller business and content sites the opportunity for compete against those that are sufficiently funded, there is one thing that goes against this.
It is that money talks.
Despite SEO presenting itself as the gateway for smaller businesses to compete on search engine, there has been so many paid SEO tools out there that has given businesses with bigger budgets to further strengthen their search engine artillery.
The search engine become an industry in itself with these SEO and PPC tools programmed by companies being more commercialised than ever.
Just have a look at two of the leading search engine marketing companies below and their efforts to promote such exclusive tools.
Try out this two‐step #ContentMarketing strategy:
— Ahrefs (@ahrefs) October 6, 2018
It feels as though the companies specialising in search engine marketing are the ones winning and having the final laugh. Whether you’re a small or big organisation, you’re more than likely going to be using their tools and as a result feeding them with money.
As for us normal individuals, we’re also big winners. Thanks to these SEO and PPC services, as information seekers, we are exposed to nothing but quality content. And what’s even better is that the journey to content like this is literally effortless.
Culturally, communities will strive towards becoming information societies that promotes the value of learning and liberal thinking. As a whole, society will continue growing the intellectual minds without any compromise.
As the internet continues its advancement in the coming years, it is crucial to quickly adapt certain tools for specific objectives.
However, the bottom line is that regardless of the fancy tools that hold the potential to generate significant website traffic, quality content still remains PARAMOUNT.
Ignoring the many developments and genesis of the search engine, what has remained constant is the quality of content.
That being said, quality is something that should be focused heavily upon. Put simply, all these fancy SEO and PPC tools are just supplements used to enhance the quality of content that’s already been established.
And if my word might not seem credible, feel free to check out one of the leading online marketer’s take on the importance of content in search engine performance!
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Malaga, R. (2007). The Value of search Engine Optimisation: An Action research Project at a New E-commerce site, Journal of Electronic Commerce in Organizations, 5(3), 69—76
Monsoonfish. (2017). 10 Great User Experience Tips, Retrieved October 6, 2018, from https://medium.com/swlh/10-great-user-experience-tips-2fc22d69cc68
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Patel, N. (2017). Why SEO Is Actually All About Content Marketing, Retrieved October 8, 2018, from https://neilpatel.com/blog/seo-is-content-marketing/
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