Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The quiet revolution in internet search

I saw a survey recently proclaiming the popularity of search engines - "92% of internet users search", it said, beating email into second place as the most common online activity. The only surprise is the 8% of people who go online and somehow avoid using search at all. How is that possible?

For the rest of us search engines have been a constant part of our lives online right from the start, helping us make sense of the deluge of data that would otherwise be impenetrable and bewildering.

Search (which means Google for 2/3 people). Type in a term, hit return and within a few nanoseconds get thousands of suggested links with the most promising at the top of the first page of results. Apart from a few superficial changes (no longer needing to hit return) nothing much has changed except that, under the hood, everything has. Many times and, some say, with profound implications.

Google is constantly evolving the algorithms which drive the ranking of results. When I was trying to get a high ranking for our website a couple of years ago, links to the site from other websites, particularly those anchored in the search term, were said to be the key. Now these links can result in your site being banished to the "also ran" pages as Google suspects you are trying to game the system.

Some of the factors that are said to improve your rankings were barely on the radar two years ago:

  • Social factors - the rising influence of Facebook and Twitter with "shares" on Facebook being given particular weight
  • Speed of the website
  • Penalties for low quality content (e.g. content farms)
  • The growing importance of location particularly in mobile search
  • Use of Google's own data from searches, sites favourited (or blocked), paid search etc
  • More sophisticated assessment of quality of page's content, structure, layout
The key messages I got reviewing the latest trends are that it is getting harder for site-owners to game the system and it is better to focus on quality content, constantly improving the usefulness of your site and trust that Google will find it. Some kind of social media strategy would appear to be a must though.

And what of personalised search: results tailored and filtered to reflect your preferences, location, search history etc? Google says it is personalising results to make them more useful but some people fear that its getting too Big Brotherish and may result in users getting a distorted view of the internet that filters out important material such as political views that your own. If you are worried about Big Google watching you then maybe try logging out of your Google account while searching.

No comments:

Post a Comment

OctoFinder Blog and ping Spanish Insight - Blogged