Why CEOs need to understand semantic search

In its 2013 Digital Marketing Survey Adobe discovered that most companies spend less than 5% of their marketing budget on conversion optimization and that includes search.


Here is the paradox: a recent Conductor study showed that nearly half of all traffic to a website comes from natural search. The Conductor study is important because it did not even take into account multi-channel traffic from the now all important mobile and portable device channels which would most likely give search the lion share of the traffic that’s driven to a website.

Intuitive as this may seem it does beg the question “Why?” Why do companies consistently underspend on the one channel that consistently drives more traffic than any other to their websites?  Considering that businesses of all kinds are full of people with skills, talent, drive, determination and intelligence the reasons as to why search does not feature so high on their marketing horizon is quite complex even if it isn’t complicated. And the complexity of the rationale is exactly what drives the uncomplicated nature of the decision.

Search and search engine optimization (SEO) are traditionally seen as:

  • Bolt-on services that can be picked up and dropped as required without any need to internalize them into the business.
  • A rarefied technical practise that is difficult to integrate into the day-to-day activities of a business.
  • A marketing channel that’s hard to measure in terms of return on the investment (ROI) because of the many different factors that govern success in it.
  • An industry that is so opaque in its practices and terminology that it barely touches upon the business-like demeanour of a company or organised business.

I have come across all of these opinions in different forms from businesses that ranged from five individuals who worked as a family to multi-national conglomerates that should really know better and in their complexity they come down to an uncomplicated decision that ironically is pertinent in the semantic web: low trust on search to deliver.

The blame for this state of affairs lies partly with the SEO industry itself that has failed to communicate clearly what it does and provide standards for its practitioners and partly with businesses themselves that stumble upon the terminology of search and fail to ask the questions that really matter that would help them establish a measure of control over the service.

Semantic Search Practices Need to Be Integrated

A company’s visibility and traffic in the semantic web depends on much, much more than just its ability to rank on the first page of Google for a few keywords. Semantic search is now comprised of specific components that govern:

  • Business identity
  • Authority and professionalism in the field the business is active in
  • Shared values between a business and its customers
  • The unique selling point of a business

All these, together form the component that most CEOs feel lacks when it comes to their consideration of SEO: Trust.

Because semantic search takes time and effort to deliver results every company effort there has to encompass the entire range of activities a business is involved in and more than just one or two members of staff tasked with doing specific things. The most radical change however is in the mindset that is now required.

Success in the semantic web depends upon making full use of opportunities as they arise and for that to happen CEOs must be able to fully understand the impact that semantic search will have on their business and plan for it accordingly in their long term marketing. Failure to do so will doom their companies upon a path that will deliver ever diminishing returns upon the most critical component of online marketing: search.  

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