Dude, I'm Phaaaaaat!

by Jennifer Osborne January 30th, 2008 

When I was a kid, I was trained to do category type searches by the Dewey Decimal library system. Later, as I got older, the Yellow Pages reinforced this category type search.

When I needed my Hair Cut I let my fingers do the walking and I looked up Beauty Salons. If I needed to drop a few pounds I looked up weight loss.

And I'm not the only one.

These category searches are so programmed into how we look for information, that they've become some of the most competitive keywords on the net: "travel", "weight loss", and of course, "sex".


Our neural networks have been programmed to do Category type searches. But the average 16 to 24 yr old doesn't know how to do category level searches. If a 21 yr old has a leaky sink, they're going to search under "leaky sink" not "plumbers".

Why don't the Millennials use Category Search?
(The Millenials are the generation born from 1980 to 1995. They are currently our biggest demographic. With 79 million, they even outnumber the Baby Boomers)

1) The Millennials Brains do not have the same neural networks that ours do
That's a fancy way of saying that they haven't been trained to use category search. Young people no longer use the Dewey Decimal system and paper Yellow Pages. If they want to find something they go to a computer terminal and look up exactly what they're looking for. And with a few refined searches, they usually find it.

The internet (which wasn't in mass consumption when we were kids) allows Millenials to search in natural terms. There is no need for them to "re-train" their brains to think in terms of Category Search the way generations before have.

2) The Search Engines are smarter.

When I first started using the internet in 1991, it was really difficult to find anything. The search engines couldn't handle more than a couple of keywords and the average searcher didn't understand Boolean Search.

In fact, search engines are so smart now, they can compensate for the fact that I can't spell. I can search for "boulian search" and get the "hey dumbass, did you mean?" result:

Okay the dumbass part was mine - Note to Google: the next evolution of search should include an opt-in to make search more FUN (you know, for the Millenials)

In fact, the latest advancement of search has Google recently putting stop words (I, and, in, the, etc) back into Search. Barry discusses it here with links to Bill and Dan.

3) The Millenials are a Demand Generation

They haven't known Depressions, World Wars, Oil Crisis's and rampant Inflation like our grandparents, parents, and us. They haven't had to worry about goods being in short supply. It's about them and their needs. I don't need a beauty salon I just want my hair cut.

So what's the implication of this?

Category type keyword phrases such as "weight loss" and "plumbers" is fine if your target market is 30+. But if you're marketing to the 16 to 30 demographic then you had better have a very robust long tail strategy.

And if budget is a consideration (when isn't' it?) and you have to make spending decisions, you may even want to forgo those pricey category keywords in favour of the long tail.

As the Millenials start to dominate the economy, smart marketers will think about how to better market to this demographic. From a search perspective, this has a tremendous implication on Keyword Strategy and how we optimize sites. Optimizing for the long tail is now much, much, more important.

It's not about targeting thousands of additional keywords by cranking out tons of low quality content. It's about finding really good ways to talk about your product or service in natural language. This could be in the form of articles, blogs, or user generated content.

So Nike, Pepsi and Wii: when I search for "Dude, I'm Phat!"; "Crush my thirst" or "I'm bored"

I'm not finding you ... and neither is your target market.

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32 Responses to “Dude, I'm Phaaaaaat!”

  1. Nick James says:

    This is great, original thinking Jenn. I've not really considered the nuances in search marketing across generational spans before. I've always seen it as being more in the realms of the traditional methods of advertising and marketing (who, incidentally, always seem to get it tragically wrong when it comes to anything regarding youth).
    Great article.

  2. Shana Albert says:

    Fo shizzy!!!!!

    This could be my favorite of all your wonderful posts, Jenn!! :)


  3. Very insightful post.

    There was a great book written in the 80s called "Media and the American Mind." I still recommend it to my clients who are trying to gain a better understanding of how important media shifts are to understanding key demographics.

  4. Good post – but it's not demographics
    Do a Google trend on the search terms
    If it was demographically caused, then cities with younger median ages should have different results
    They don't
    People's thought processes are different – which makes them search with different terms

  5. Erica says:

    Great article and a whole new spin on keyword research & long-tail targeting!

  6. Dev Basu says:

    That post was sick!

  7. Metacognition is my favorite meta of all. :) Never met a cognition I didn't like.

  8. I take your well-made point on Millenials. However, marketers have always been taught to meet needs and solve problems – so key terms like "baby christening present" and "holiday reading" should already be commonplace. Not a million miles from your "crush my thirst" example.

  9. Nick, Shana and Erica – thank you! btw, I haven't heard that one yet Shana!

    Thank you Ray, I will look for that book.

    Dev – that's good right? :)

    Elizabeth – I LOVE your comment!!!

    Alan – point taken :)

  10. Thank you Peter – I didn't realize that there was that much differentiation in age on a by city basis. I'll have to look into this further.

  11. Choosing the right keywords for your demographic…

    If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!
    Jennifer Osborne at Search Engine People wrote an interesting post about the importance of understanding how your target audience searches. She describes how a 40-yea…

  12. […] read with interest a recent post by Jennifer Osborne on Search Engine People regarding how Millennials fundamentally search for products and services differently as compared to […]

  13. Jennifer Osborne

    Ya, you are right that If we need to search my Hair Cut we look up for Beauty Salons. And this is showing the importance of category while searching for information easier.

    You know why web directories exists today? Because they target middle and old age audience who are so habitual to these category based searches that they even ignore search engines some time.

    So If we need to target middle age and old age people, submission to web directories will be very much important step.

    Directory Maximizer

  14. […] Yellow Pages 'Keyword' Version I read with interest a recent post by Jennifer Osborne on Search Engine People regarding how Millennials fundamentally search for products and services differently as compared […]

  15. […] such interesting blog post by Jennifer Osborne discusses how millennials, the generation born from roughly 1980 to 1995, no […]

  16. […] such interesting blog post by Jennifer Osborne discusses how millennials, the generation born from roughly 1980 to 1995, no […]

  17. Teresha Aird says:

    Good point and I agree that there is a difference in the way people search although I would think the trend is moving towards more natural search and away from categories, even for Baby Boomers.

    Not only is this a very important factor for Marketers to consider, it's equally important for online directories and the yellow page industry in general. Granted, you can't "search" naturally using a printed yellow page book but most yellow pages have an online equivalent and few offer anything close to natural search.

    This is one thing we're striving for at Bizwiki (see the initial version at http://www.bizwiki.co.uk). No one, not even Baby Boomers, want to be limited to searching the way the site wants them to which is what a lot of online yellow page sites have been doing until relatively recently.

    I know that Michael Taylor at the Kelsey Group mentioned that there are further tentative moves in this direction which is good news for all internet users.

  18. Us silly new generations, messing up teh internetz.

  19. seo learner says:

    good post, and I'm to late to know this blog.
    I'll subscribe to your blog.

  20. Chelle says:

    Wow, I never thought about that before with the yellow pages and categories but I think you're right. I'll have to think about that while writing my posts :)

  21. hair loss says:

    I too never thought about the yellow pages and its categories and i completely agree.

  22. Hye Munar says:

    Very informative. Thanks. It helped me more acquainted with SEO.

  23. […] es una traducción al español de: Dude, I’m Phaaaaaat! escrito por Jennifer […]

  24. […] Traduction française de l’article écrit par Jennifer Osborne le 30 janvier 2008 : Dude, I’m Phaaaaaat! […]

  25. Eva White says:

    I think that's one fizzy article. There are also some pertinent points to keep in mind.

  26. ron ellis says:

    Very insightful – but would not a Boolean Search inside a category search yield a lot better and more relevant results? Why not make it possible to do both? And while we are at it why not catalog the net according to a 'modified' Dewey decimal system. That way people who seek advertising could avoid facts and vice versa!

  27. MOin says:

    *If a 21 yr old has a leaky sink, they’re going to search under “leaky sink” not “plumbers”.*

    thats really a perfect example search engines are more about searching ways, searching the exact thing you looking for at your first try is itself an art and i like the idea of category search i'll dig into this one now to expand my search horizons.

  28. […] Diodes as a display and be cool not in spite of it but because of it, then you're going to flip open a Yellow Pages and be done with […]

  29. The fact that Google can correct me when I spell wrong has made my life easier in every way, shape or form. I constantly get Google correcting me, but it sure done help.

  30. Seo Uzmanı says:

    Us silly new generations, messing up teh internetz.

  31. I personally use all types of information that is available to me. I usually start with the internet then move to more local publications if I don't find what I'm after.

  32. Abdulrehman says:

    As it is, i am a millennial and I think this is not the right phrase: 'he Millennials Brains do not have the same neural networks that ours do'. Not all are the same, depends on how lazy and dumb they are!