Remember when everyone wanted the #1 position for one-word searches? Time was that more than half of searches were only one word, but searchers have grown a lot more sophisticated since then. One-word searches rarely found what searchers were looking for, and comprise far less of the mix nowadays. It's just one way that search marketing is getting more specific.

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What people used to search for on their third or fourth try is more likely their first try today. And part of that is because people know a lot more about search, so they are more willing to type a bit more to get the answer they seek on the first go-round. But there is a lot more going on.

If you use a search toolbar, you might notice something. When you start typing a keyword, you are presented with suggestions for how you might finish that thought, sometimes three- or four-word suggestions. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, one reason people type less is that they hate to type, so anything that eliminates typing while producing longer keyword strings is important.

But there is another reason you should think about, too. Those suggestions that pop up are the most popular keywords entered by others or keywords that the searcher previously entered. No matter the reason, it's clear that with fewer keystrokes, people can search for far more specific items, so they do.

But you ain't seen nothing yet. Have you been paying attention to Google Goggles and similar applications that allow you take photos with your cell phone and search with them? You can even take a picture of a bar code and find that exact product.

This is important for the same reason that suggested keyword completion is important. It's easier to snap a photo of a bar code than to type in the SKU number, so more people will do it. And those results are very specific.

What does it mean to marketers? Specific is more important than ever. When someone typed in "rugged laptop," lots of manufacturers and retailers are in play, but when someone is a lot more specific (searching for the bar code of a Panasonic ToughBook), then only one manufacturer is in play and a lot fewer retailers.

Amazon once had an enormous edge in search because no matter what people were searching for, general or specific, they had something that looked like a good answer. But when people start searching this specifically, it can help retailers that carry a much narrower range of products than Amazon. You can be found with that bar code even if you don't carry any other brand of rugged latop--even if you carry just that single product from the ToughBook line.

It's time to start thinking specific. Specific searches need specific content, so bar codes, SKU numbers, multiple keywords that match long product names and features--all of them required more attention on your pages. Broad keywords might never become unimportant, but specific keywords are more important than ever.

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May 18, 2010

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Very interesting; you made me think more about the "one-to- one-at-a-time search," which is still searching, and still just a forward search, or a typical "Google," which you'd do on Bing, or Yahoo!, sort of. From the business side it's advertising as usual.

But, seriously, an inverse search is one-to-many; much simpler, much more efficient and cost effective for both consumers and businesses.

And, it's not just about retail, either.

Totally agree, Joe. Retail might be merging faster but you are right that this trend will continue across many different kinds of searches, as you point out.

Very interesting Joe,

There is great info in this post I didn't know that you can actually take a photo and have a search done on that. Technology is so advanced now it is out of this world.

Being specific is more aimed towards long tail keywords that must be why there is so much emphasis put on your keyword research.

Great post


Right. Retail searches account for about 37% of searches. We think inverse searches are key to Web 3.0 (semantic web), for one because they're true "pulling." As people have less and less time, it only makes sense to send a query to multiple sources simultaneously.

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