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.