Buyer's Guide … the one with the Encyclopedia!

Search Engine Optimization in the Context of Digital Marketing

Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta

Quite obviously, Internet search engines like Google are very extensively used nowadays, and therefore it is very important to achieve a high ranking on search engine results pages – particularly in the context of digital marketing. After all, the number of page views and therefore the exposure of advertisements crucially depends on the influx of traffic from search engines.

For optimizing that traffic, a wide range of methods for search engine optimization (SEO) has been developed and is applied by many website operators. Here, one should also consider that particularly the major search engines have become so much better in evaluating which pages are relevant for certain searches. That development has a major impact on what kind of SEO measures have a chance to have substantial effects. In short, what matters most nowadays are not so much the technical details (like meta tags), but rather some central aspects of the actual content:

  • Keywords occurring in a text are of course an important indication for whether or not it is relevant in a certain context. However, these are handled in substantially more intelligent ways by modern search engines. For example, it does not necessarily hurt that much not to mention a certain synonym, even if people search for that word – search engines are clever enough to realize that it means about the same as some other word occurring in the text. Also, search engine can detect certain artificial techniques of (ab)using keywords, and certain optimization techniques maybe thus even backfire.
  • The quality and usefulness of content can also be estimated by search engines with quite sophisticated means, which are of course not known to the public in any detail. Apart from an intricate analysis of published text, search engines can also monitor the reaction of users in order to extract various hints. Such results can subsequently influence the search engine ranking. For example, if users calling a certain search result page are often quickly back to the search results list in order to try some other page, this is of course a sign that the page is recognized as not being useful.
  • The length of the text is also an important parameter. However, that doesn't mean that it would help to artificially inflate it.

Personally, my reasoning has long ago led me to the (still valid) conclusion that one should not waste any time on tricky SEO measures which have the tendency to manipulate search engines. Rather, I trust that the algorithms used by these engines are quite good (and better every year) in assessing what is useful for the users. Therefore, one should just think about those and work for them – being helpful for the community. One can trust that the search engines sooner or later recognize what people love.

Only, one should observe a few very basic rules and not do certain stupid mistakes. For example, make sure that every web page gets an appropriate title tag, and that hyperlinks are used where appropriate.

Other Ranking Factors

Note that the search engine ranking does not only depend on the content, but also on some other factors. An important one is page speed, i.e., the speed with which the web pages are presented by the user's web browser. That is mostly an issue of the software architecture of a website, less dependent on the used server hardware and its connection to the Internet. It often requires a lot of sophisticated technical work to optimize such things.

Another aspect is mobile-friendly web design, if mobile users are considered to be important for the website. Ideally, a website offers a responsive design, mainly meaning that its details adapt well to device screens with very different sizes. When search engines recognize that webpages are not well suited for mobile devices, they lower while the search results ranking for those pages in mobile searches.

Buyer's Guides

In the early days of the Internet, people often paid for getting inbound links on various pages. However, search engines hate paid links, seeing them as a way to manipulate them. Therefore, certain things may even hurt the search engine ranking of a website, and particularly the ranking of such link farms themselves is easily put down by suitable algorithms. And generally I recommend not using paid links at all.

But how about buyer's guides – aren't these not also for getting paid links? Well, some people believe that one of the main benefits is to get links to your website in order to improve your search engine ranking for certain keywords (mainly related to products). And some of our competitors even explicitly take the SEO benefit as their first value proposal! However, I don't believe that you will ever get an SEO advantage (higher search engine ranking) just by getting listed in a buyer's guide:

  • First of all, most of these resources have such a poor ranking themselves that you cannot expect them to deliver any significant SEO signal to the search engines.
  • Second, many of them (including ours) only use so-called nofollow links which are explicitly meant not to endorse the linked page to the search engine. That is exactly because otherwise these could be recognized as paid links – with potentially dire consequences for everyone involved.

Of course there are other reasons for getting listed in a buyer's guide, particularly in the by far best one. The main point is that it is used by people searching for suppliers, and you absolutely want to be seen at that moment. To be really seen, you need to present your product description (with a paid entry), since this is what people use to make their short list of suppliers to be considered (when being confronted with a long list of suppliers for some product). But this has nothing to do with SEO: it simply brings valuable referrals to your website, i.e., it generates additional traffic, even of particularly high importance (people willing to buy!), but not from search engines.

By the way, the search engine ranking of our buyer's guide itself is of course an important quality because it helps the traffic, and only a popular buyer's guide can be a useful one for advertisers. That great ranking results from the close integration (via hyperlinks) with a lot of technical and scientific content on our website, particularly with the encyclopedia articles. For search engines (nearly as much as for our users), the encyclopedia and buyer's guide are not two separate resources, but rather one huge resource covering the whole area of photonics with quality content.


In conclusion, search engine optimization is indeed very important. Mostly, it means optimizing the content. In addition to SEO work, one should make sure that certain other things are done properly, e.g. concerning page speed and responsive design.

Buyer's guide listings are also very important, but not at all because of SEO – don't believe such claims. Here, the point is to provide information about your products in a moment where people need to make a short list of suppliers. That gives you high-quality referral traffic to your website rather than an improvement of page ranking.

This article is a posting of the RP Photonics Marketing News, authored by Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta. You may link to this page, because its location is permanent.

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