How Search Engines May Substitute Other Search Terms for Yours
What is critically important to those optimising sites for SEs (by definition a much larger pool than those offering SEO services) is the drastic decrease in available real estate. Not only are you now (and, imo, increasingly in the future) competing on exact query term but also on related query terms.
This means that if you currently hold one of the top three positions for a term you can work returned associated term(s) as well for increased presence. Unfortunately, it also means that if your site shows at lower page positions it may be bumped off the first page to the second.
Letís say that a large number of people who search for the term intellectual property then go on to search for the term patent attorney with their very next search, or within the same search session.
The search engine log files would uncover that such an association exists, and the search engine might explore how common it is for searchers to search for that second phrase. If it happens frequently enough, the search engine may start suggesting patent attorney as a suggested search to searchers along with a display of search results for the term intellectual property.
When you add in the also increasing tendency to split the results page to offer possible alternative meanings of query terms the first page SERP property available is fast shrinking.
A few somewhat rhetorical questions:
* What is the value increase of a top three term placement when the exact query result drops from 10 to <5 returns?
* What is the value increase of 'long tail' content when associated query terms are auto-included?
* What is the value boost to a query term SERP by highly ranked onsite associated terms?
* What is the value boost to associated long(er) tail terms of increased deep linking?