Marketing Technology for Growth

Why SEO Has Become TDO (Targeted Discovery Optimization)

using targeted discover to attract prospects

“I want what I want when I want it.” No, this isn’t a quote from my three-year old (though it just as well might be); this is a snapshot of our thinking every time we use a search engine or mobile app for needs discovery. Whether it’s a keyword search for “the capital of Djibouti,” or a voice query for “best brew pub in Minneapolis,” we are not asking Google’s search engine or Apple’s Siri to shoot us an eMail or text with the answer sometime later on- far from it. In each of these instances, we are engaging in a highly targeted discovery action through which we expect to fulfill an immediate need or a want. We do this with search engines, social search queries, social-mobile apps and more. In such a fragmented needs discovery environment, brands and digital marketers must optimize for targeted discovery. Move over SEO, we live in an age of TDO.

As search engines like Google move to context-based algorithms that favor content over process, SEO will slowly morph into user-intent-driven targeted discovery. The proliferation of specific-use social mobile apps, socially-generated content (user-generated reviews), and predictive recommendations will upend the traditional search process, ushering in a new era of targeted discovery.


In tech terms, the transition from SEO to TDO has been a relatively gradual process. Consumer empowerment through widespread Internet, social, and mobile adoption, coupled with the shift of search engines like Google to favor fresh and original content are probably the most relevant factors at play.

The rise of mobile especially has forced marketers and digital strategists to rethink search. Shunning the laborious process of typing in a search query on their smartphones, consumers, always looking for simplicity and convenience, are opting for specific-use mobile apps for needs discovery. Many prefer social mobile apps like Yelp and Foursquare, with their user-generated reviews and promoted local offerings, over traditional search engines.

With a majority of social users accessing their favorite social networks via mobile devices, there has been a gradual uptick of internal “social” searches on platforms like Facebook. This trend partially explains Google’s longstanding obsession with pushing its truly social search platform, Google+.

User generated reviews from friends and family add more immediacy to the social search experience for many mobile social users. Recognizing that affinity breeds trust and promotes action, the big social networks are baking in recommendations from social review/ratings sites (think Zagat), as well as from members of one’s own social following.

Into the mix one must add highly sophisticated, big-data generated initiatives such as ad retargeting (provides tailored ads based on previous browsing history) and predictive recommendations (shows ads of products you should like based on your online profile). Each is a high-sophisticated form of needs discovery attempting to fulfill a consumer want or need immediately after, or even before, it is consciously realized.


In this increasingly complex and fragmented consumer needs discovery environment, the term SEO (search engine optimization) describes only one element of the mix. SEO, social search, social mobile apps, ad retargeting, and predictive recommendations all have one thing in common: they’re trying to address or fulfill a specific query that was at some point instigated by a consumer engaging in the process of needs discovery, of saying, “I want what I want when I want it.”

Targeted Discovery Optimization (TDO) is, in fact if not in form, what marketers are really trying to facilitate. So why not call it that?

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Topics: Search