Archive for September, 2010

SEO is Killing Search Engines

September 22nd, 2010 | by Alexandra Dao

posted in Search

Search is broken. SEO gaming is part of the problem.

The promise from search engines is that they’ll help us find the information we’re seeking, and help us make smarter, faster decisions.

But what search engines don’t like to talk about is the practice of SEO (search engine optimization), and how some less than honest SEO practices can negatively affect search engine rankings.

Search engine optimization is defined as the process of improving the visibility of a web site in search engines via the natural or un-paid search results.

SEO rules the world of search

SEO is big business and there’s no shortage of SEO practitioners who help sites and blogs rank better in search engines. But, like any craft, SEO can be used for good or evil.

Search engines have laid out guidelines for SEO practices, however this hasn’t stopped people from developing unethical, deceptive techniques (known as blackhat SEO) to achieve higher search rankings than their content shoud achieve.

Recently, a confessional thread on Reddit detailed how spammers were able to use infographics and Digg to get higher rankings for high traffic keywords such as ‘online education’ or ‘internet degrees.’ Here’s a quote:

“There is MAJOR money to be made in SEO (search engine optimization). That term is often euphemistic for high-level spamming, so don’t think it’s all about tweaking headlines and whatnot.

Once the post hit the front page [of Digg], it was a massive benefit because of the Google-juice it sent directly as well as the tremendous network effect set off by having so many people see it. Inevitably, a ton of people would grab it down and repost it, sending their Google-juice our way as well.”

As long as people stand to gain a lot of money by gaming search results, search engines will remain vulnerable and ultimately all of us will have to put up with less relevant search results as a consequence.

Social search can help

One way that people and search engines are able to circumvent SEO gaming is by pulling in relevant results from social networks. Social search is a breakthrough in the world of search. People now spend more time on social networks than search engines, so it only makes sense to include relevant information being shared on social networks in search results.

Some search engines have included social search results in a fairly basic way – adding public tweets, Facebook statuses and top shared links. Where we really see the value of social search is in incorporating friends directly in search results. All of the links that friends are tweeting, posting on Facebook, and saving on Delicious represent content that has essentially been vetted by the people we know and trust. There’s a good chance if our friends find an article useful we will too.

Social networking and social media sites have drastically impacted the way we discover information online, and with social search there’s an opportunity to use our friends to impact our search results in ways never before possible.

This is the second in a series of posts entitled, “The Problems with Search”. Our first post in this series is Search Engines are Failing Us. We’ll be publishing subsequent posts on a regular basis.

Search Engines are Failing Us

September 16th, 2010 | by Alexandra Dao

posted in Search

Search is broken.

It’s a bold statement. But despite how reliant we’ve become on using search engines to navigate the web, they’re failing us. And making them “instant” isn’t the answer.

This is the first in a series of posts entitled, “The Problems with Search”. We’ll be publishing subsequent posts on a regular basis.

For this post, we’ll start by examining how well search engines are able to filter through the vast amount of online content and return relevant results.

The Web is Huge

How much content is actually being published on the web? Recently, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said that we’re now creating as much content every two days as we did from the beginning of time to 2003. Every two days! It’s impossible to know just how big the web is, but as a reference point Google announced that they had indexed 1 trillion unique URLs back in 2008. Bottom line, the web is insanely huge and it’s getting bigger and bigger by the second.

How Search Engines Fail Us

First, in order to find the most relevant content, Google and other search engines have trained us to come up with the ‘right’ search queries. If you use a search query that’s too general you’ll end up with completely irrelevant results.

Then, even once you’ve figured out a search query that could potentially get you what you’re looking for you’ll find millions of results. What value are results beyond the first page? When was the last time you even looked at results on the 10th page or beyond?

And how do search engines determine the relevancy of results? One way is to see how many other sites are linking to a web page, and the importance of those sites. As a result, search engines often favor older sites and older web pages that have been around awhile and accrued lots of external links. But for you that means you’re very likely going to see outdated information and have a harder time finding current, relevant data.

New Content is Often the Most Relevant

The fact that search engines archive so much content is a great thing. It’s provided us with access to more than we can possibly imagine. But search engines are a victim of their own success, and the ways in which they rank content are failing us more and more often.

New content is often the most important for us at any given moment in time. And yet new content is penalized by search engines for its newness, and as a result it doesn’t bubble to the surface and get the attention it deserves, when we need it.

At the same time, so much new content is created continuously, sorting it by date (most recent to oldest) isn’t enough. Sometimes there is a gem buried in a piece of content that was written a few years ago. Fundamentally, the volume of content created is outpacing the ability of search engines to adapt and provide the most relevant results for you – as an individual searching – at any given point in time.

Search is broken.