When I want clear explanations of technical stuff, I often turn to Wikipedia. It defines Organic Search as: "a process by which World Wide Web users find web sites having unpaid search engine listings, as opposed to using the pay per click advertisement listings displayed among the search results." When you go to a search engine such as Google or Yahoo! and perform a search, you will see the "organic" results surrounded by "paid" results. Many companies are spending huge amounts, to put their message into these paid ad locations. Most (including the company I work for, Index Stock) are also spending time and effort to get a top ranking in the organic results.
Thanks to this hard work and the good "content" we offer, Index Stock's various Web sites get hundreds of thousands of "organic search" visits, each month. Rather than offering my ideas on how to tune a site to get more of these visits (a process known as Search Engine Optimization or SEO), I thought I'd tell you a little about the search phrases that seem to bring people to us. To do this, I looked at what keywords led visitors to our core www.indexstock.com site, during the first half of 2006.
Our visitors came via more than 10,000 different search terms, during this period. (There are also thousands of non-search sites that link to us and send us traffic--a part of the traffic-building story that I may talk about on another occasion.) I decided to study only the top 150 organic search terms, since these accounted for more than 80% of all of our search engine-originated traffic.
The most common search terms were also the easiest to guess. About 40% of our search visitors had entered a phrase such as "stock photography," "stock photos," "stock images," "royalty free photos," or "free photos." The first three of these alone accounted for about 30% of all search-origin visits. I counted 40 generic terms for stock photography, in the top 150. Some of the less frequent ones were things like "stock de fotos" (we probably should provide foreign-language descriptions of our site, to make it easier for foreign searchers to find us), "stock photo search" and "photo subscription."
The next most common terms related to our name. Yes, it seems about 35% of the folks who came to us via major search engines knew (or thought they knew) our name, but not the URL of our Web site. A few (about a third of these visitors) got our name right (we respond to either "Index Stock" or "Index Stock Imagery"). The rest tried a number of creative alternatives such as: "Index Images," "Index Photos," "Image Index," Indexstock Imagery," and "Index Stock.com." Given the trouble I've had my whole life with my own name (which seems hard for just about everyone I meet to understand, pronounce, and spell!) I wonder if we should change our name to something even simpler (along the same lines, several people have suggested that I give up and just change my name to "Bob"). We may also need to embed name variants in our pages, to make it easier for the search engines to connect our page with what our spelling-challenged and memory-inhibited visitors are looking for.
Third on the list at about 10% of our organic traffic, are people who are looking for a specific artist. I was pleased to see that more than 60 of our artists were included the top 150 search terms. This suggests to me that our customers are interested in the individuals whose work is the foundation of our success. We seem to be building a pleasant synergy with our artists, that combines our marketing power with their personal fame and reputation. The special portfolio page we build for each artist (http://www.indexstock.com/content/artists/artists.asp) and an advanced search that makes it easy to find each artist's images, contribute to this traffic.
About 0.3% of our visitors got to us by asking what sites are similar to those of one of our major competitors. I like that, because it says that at least some people out there want to see fresh images and new choices. We subscribe to the view that is unethical to use our competitors' names on our site. Otherwise, we could probably spoof and spam a lot more of their visitors, to come to us.
Only a tiny sliver of visitors were looking for what I expected to see--specific topics. While there was one off-color cluster of searches ("arab gay photos") and a few mundane pro photographer-related items ("photo model" and "photo release"), most highly specific search term items are buried far down in our search stream. That may change as we continue to expose more of the meta data in our images to search engines.