Using SEO to ‘Steal’ Hits?

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On July 17th this year, a chap called Marshall asked “Will Mainstream Users Ever Learn About The Browser’s Address Bar?“. He was of course referring to the kind of average Internet user that opens up their browser, and types what they’re looking for straight into a Google homepage/the search bar built in to their browser. Anyone who’s ever watched their grandparents — or maybe even their parents — use a computer will know there’s nothing new about this browsing “technique”. I’m sure there’s probably a statistic for the amount of users who never type URLs directly, and I’m sure it’s high.

Given how quickly knowledge spreads on the Internet, it is no surprise therefore to see advertising companies applying this logic to their campaigns. Internet promotion, and more recently, television advertisements are encouraging users to search for “xyz” online rather than providing a specific URL. One particular ad’ that I recall quite vividly is for the Royal Navy. The careers advert ends with search for ‘navy jobs’ online, and as an Internet user this stuck in my mind more easily than a complex URL might have.

While I’m always excited to see any company embracing what is actually the norm rather than forcing a user to do it “their” way, I can’t help but consider the possibilities of abuse that are being opened by this approach.

There are many people who make a small fortune marketing their skills as a SEO consultant. So what is to stop one of these SEO experts from using an advert — funded by someone else altogether — from boosting their own rankings? Assuming they have the know-how and networking capabilities to successfully target a given set of keywords or keyphrases for normal clients, this same knowledge can be applied to ‘stealing’ high rankings away from someone else. The result would be a boost in the organic traffic from search engines, because of the probably unrelated advert, and all without spending a penny themselves.

I don’t have the time to even begin trying it out, but I can see that if we are going to start accommodating regular users habits more readily, we have to consider the potential consequences too.

Jem Turner +44(0)7521056376

21 comments so far

  1. Katy said:

    Remember a few years ago loads of adverts (particularly films?) would be “AOL keyword: blah blah”. (aol users obviously being too stupid to cope with an entire web address, and also this may have been a time where sites outside of aol didn’t exist as far as they were concerned. what do you mean you want to browse away from our amazing website/use something other than our wonderful web browser?!)

    Not seen so much of it recently, but then again I haven’t seen many adverts in the last few months/year either :)

  2. Aaron said:

    I haven’t seen any advertisements yet like that, but I can definitely see it gaining popularity and soon.

    P.S.: I was really hoping for a post about your alien abduction. :P

  3. Clem said:

    I see ads like that on TV all the time, usually for TV shows or insurance.

    I use my address bar like Google; I’m too lazy to use the built-in Google bar right next to it. It works the same way, though, so I don’t care. :P

  4. Rhys said:

    As like 90% of my job is SEO based, I feel I’d need to reply.

    To achieve this, you’d need to have such a domination in the keyword not to suffer problems. You mention the Royal Navy. It’s a fairly common fact that government organisations rank so much better than us normals, means that it will take a HELL of an SEO effort to outrank Royal Navy on Royal Navy keyword.

    The other thing is that’s what the point? There’s no money in “Royal Navy” keyword (at best they have a small Adwords campaign), there’s much bigger and easier fish to fry for the SEO’ers out there.

    My 2p’s worth :)

  5. Jem said:

    The navy was just an example of someone telling people to search rather than visit a URL, I wasn’t suggesting anyone actually compete with them for keywords.

    I love the fact that you’re trying to tell me about SEO though; nice touch ;)

  6. Aisling said:

    My dad just types whatever he wants to find into the address bar, while I sit there like o_O. Alternatively, if I give him a direct URL to visit, he will pop it into Google. It is all very backward, and I don’t know quite what to say when it happens in my presence. :P

  7. Rich said:

    I think it’s worth adding one very important point: it’s not the search results they care about you seeing, it’s the nicely yellow highlighted sponsored link that appears above them!

    We recently ran a ‘search for’ campaign for a very high profile client, and the date-range specific traditional media ads matched perfectly with the (vastly!) increased AdWords/Yahoo/AOL spending budget during that period. It worked flawlessly. I’ve not checked the Navy campaign, but I’d bet money they are doing something similar!

    Without this element you are, as you rightly say, fighting with the rest of the SEO sharks (both black and white hats)

  8. Kaylee said:

    Before the new Firefox toolbar, I used to type site names into Google to visit them. I think it was because I didn’t like my address bar to have a long list of sites I visit :P

    Now, even though I use the address bar much more often, I still find myself using the Google-search method from time to time.

  9. Jem said:

    it’s not the search results they care about you seeing, it’s the nicely yellow highlighted sponsored link that appears above them!

    Indeed; unfortunately the majority still think that the paid ads are a) part of the genuine results and b) the best, because they’re at the top. That’s why this will work so well (although neither a) or b) are always true). However, there are users that ignore the adverts.

    The thing is, there’s no quick way to find out exactly how other people are benefiting from adverts like this. Without creating a separate site and tracking clicks to it during the campaign, we can only guess… unless you can think of a better way to track those ‘stray’ clicks?

  10. Chelsea said:

    Mozilla Firefox Googles any keywords put into the address bar. So when I first go on the Internet I enter ‘bebo’ in the address bar and the Bebo homepage will just come up. If it’s something that can’t be just brought up it just takes you to the Google search results. Handy!

    Laziness, I know, but save the fingers!

  11. Melissa said:

    It surprises me how often I see ‘ashesfromstars’ as the search phrase used to get to my site – why search the URL when you already know it?

    Like Katy said, I immediately thought of those annoying AOL keyword bits at the bottom of adverts a few years ago. They really got my goat, because I just assumed that everybody could find their way around the internet like me and knew that you type http://whatever into the address bar to open a website.

    It does amuse me slightly that the Royal Navy feel that their prospective applicants are too stupid to remember a URL and instead will have to find their site via Google. Erh, a search engine.

  12. Keith D Mains said:

    Hi Jemma (other posters readers)

    After reading the original article I posted about it on my forum (The link to the post is in my name in this comment). I linked back to this page in respect and naturally becase I wanted to.

    I titled the original post in the thread Navy Jobs as n experiment and await any results that may happen.

    Nice read by the way Jemma .