The Economic Impact of Search

by Ruud Hein September 26th, 2008 

There are businesses with a rock solid presence and value that won't have to worry about search and its meaning at all. Take the depanneur here at the corner of the street, your typical corner store with milk, bread, and other assorted useful stuff. I know it's there. You don't – and the reason you don't is because you don't need this one.

When we're in need of a corner store there's no reason to pick up the Yellow Pages or get Google buzzing; you know.

But obviously we also have business that should worry about search and its meaning.

A perfect example is pizza delivery.

Unlike the corner store, which location you'll remember years after leaving it or it leaving you, the telephone number of the pizza delivery service we used last time is apt forgotten. I know you give out those cashier slips with the phone number printed in Blue Ink (Faded #18) or hand out those full colour menu fliers but dude… I'm eating pizza. By the time I recover from my calorie induced coma, pizza, pizza box and all accompanying paper work are long gone.

So, what's a hungry man to do?

If you're my age, which means your first mouse was a live one back in the days when you could and own a calculator with red Light Emitting 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 it.

If on the other hand you're born more recently, you might just go to Google and ask for "pizza your location"

What I find interesting then are the differences between these two models: differences that have had and continue to have a real economical impact.

Search & How It Limits

The majority of searchers won't go farther than 3 pages deep into their search results. That's 30 entries. Most of these searchers will see only the first page and on the first page they'll mainly see results 1-3.

That's an impressive break with our former information digestion when searching for economical transaction partners. Flip open a Yellow Pages, I just did, and you're pretty soon counting 30-40 telephone numbers there. That's on a page with several large ads. If you let your eye fall on the accompanying page you've scanned 60-80 entries.

Let's put this another way: a side effect of using modern search engines is information reduction.

That the information is ranked creates a perception of relevance which lowers our exposure to and engagement with the additional results even further.

For a business this means that you can be listed but not ranked: the first search results page is the equivalent of letter A listing in the past only this time nobody is looking further. You're on one of the pages but nobody cares.

Economy through obscurity is as bad as security through obscurity. Unfortunately it's precisely what a search engine, or rather our way of using it, has to offer to the majority of businesses listed .

Just Between You & Me

The photo of the corner store is by s o d a p o p. She has a great love for New York city and takes some wonderful photos of it.

I'd thought to go with corner store in B&W, subtitled Exploit the poor and call it art. Nice one to check out, if you have time.

The empty library, used to convey the idea of information reduction, is by stu_spivack. He's doing New York City too but is mainly into food

I snacked on muntdrop, black licorice from the Dutch Klene; they have deliciously quaint, search engine unfriendly, un-deep-linkable web sites.

Oh, and I had coffee, of course, out of one of my beloved mugs, a 16oz Starbucks City Collection Amsterdam mug.

I listened to Last.fm's smooth jazz stream.
PS: you're free to friend me on Last.fm, too, of course.

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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12 Responses to “The Economic Impact of Search”

  1. Be listed but not ranked~! That is an astoundingly clear definition of what happens to most businesses.

  2. I think the statement that most people don't go past the third page of search results is slightly misleading, in that it makes it sound like many people go that far. In this our age of SEO, it's rare that I go past the 1st page unless I'm conducting research, particularly if I was looking for something as mundane as local pizza.

  3. Metaspring says:

    Actually i was surprised to read that the average searcher searches up to page three. I personally rarely if ever go beyond page one or two at the max.

  4. Good article though the upto page 3 is very rare imo though I don't think its that rare for obscure and long tail keywords. A person will keep on searching until he find the Best page…

    By the way, Ruud are you from some scandinavian country ? :)

    Pushkar

  5. Phil says:

    It's only web people that really know that more relevant results might exist further pages down, just because they might not have achieved ranking.

    I don't think Google organic search can really be defined as a business directory, although it does somewhat assume that role when someone performs a search for "nearby pizza places". Perhaps Google should aim at recognizing these types of searches more comprehensively and serving different types of results.

  6. Ruud Hein says:

    The 3 page deep behaviour is a very stubborn one. People are more likely to adjust their search or try the same search in a different search engine than keep on going deeper into the results.

    @Pushkar I was born and raised in Amsterdam. Been living in Canada for the past 10 years.

    @Phil They do try to address local searches different. If you do something like pizza london you'll get a location map with up to 10 local results on top of the SERP.

  7. Phil says:

    Haha, yes I see Ruud thank you, I stand corrected. The same happens for searches "pet shops london", "coffee london" and "auto parts london" – universal search hard at work there.

    I suppose the nature of ranking of results in this case does limit choice, both the fault of the search engine AND the searcher.

  8. Michael D says:

    Search has affected the economics of my business in a big way. I've discovered that even though I am sort of on the corner (right next to a place like in the top photo) our neighbors call to get more information before coming in. The number called is from the website so we know they are looking online. Wonder if we had no internet presence would they be going to another office just because it was easier to get info online. Glad we are findable.

  9. Wow, what a great point you have highlighted here. I guess old school search is much better for business if your business site is not well structured for search engine optimization. So it's safer to use both to good effect, still keep to the old school directories and strive to rank on the first page of search engines for your online directories.

  10. Phil says:

    @ Michael D I have begun to always start looking online, from window repair to buying gifts, which is not so common in South Africa, but although my local suppliers may not always even have websites, I at least find them through local business directories that I find using Google :)

    Due to the nature of Google, the more info you provide online the better for you definately.

  11. [...] The economic impact of search [...]

  12. I rarely go beyond the first page unless the first page results are irrelevant to my query. To get your visibility online, business should first start off with local SEO.
    Rif Chia