Isn’t it amazing? The web has opened doorways and placed at our fingertips everything our hearts could desire. Anything I ever wanted to know is just a few key strokes a way. Any book, movie, song, image, game, etc… can be on my screen in a matter of moments. It is really that cool.
At least it seems that way. The wonderful thing about the Web is there just so much out there. But the terrible thing about the Web is there is just so much out there.
Imagine if you walked into a giant warehouse that held all of Earth’s knowledge stacked on shelves around you. You are filled with a sense of elation and wonder. The answer to every thing could very well be in that room with you. So you pick up the first book and start skimming through it. Fascinating, you just found an article on an ancient relative of the Apes called Gigantopithecus. Who knew? You put it down and pick up another. This is a copy of George Orwell’s 1984. You always meant to read it so you put it to the side to read later. The next book has pictures of naked ladies in positions you didn’t even know possible, then a bug crawls out and you slam it shut and throw it in a corner. This goes on and on and on until your to-read pile threatens to crush you in a bone-crunching avalanche and you haven’t even gotten past the first shelf on the first bookshelf.
This is the web. Heaven help you if you actually had a specific question that needed answering.
Enter Google and other illustrious search engines and directories. Finally a magic tool that allows you to say exactly what you need and it does the heavy lifting and brings back the answers. Flags fly and bells gong. There are parties in the streets and people cry with joy. It is the answer to all our prayers. The search engine can do the impossible and sort through all the information and bring back exactly what we want.
Except it can’t. I’m not saying it isn’t useful or that it isn’t a whole lot better than the alternative. But it is a tool and as a tool it works in a very specific way and can only do very specific things.
Imagine this. In that same room you have a Google Bot searching for the answer to your question. Books and documents are stuffed and stacked so deep it can’t possibly reach all of them. So it starts collecting materials before you even get there, things that seem to be the best and most used, and moves them into a special pile. This pile is huge, but by no means covers everything out there. But there is still a good chance your answer is in there—or more likely one that is good enough.
Then you ask your question and the Bot goes to its pile and starts searching. But think about this, if it were to open every book and scan every word for your answer it may never come back. Not in your lifetime at least. So it looks at the most important information, the title, the description, and the first several pages. If it finds your word in there it throws it back at you. (The order it throws it at you is a whole different story, and I will get to this in a later post) and eventually you have your own pile to scan through. But what if your answer was in the second half of a book? Well, you might be out of luck.
This is the Web. A little exhausting to think about isn’t it? But it works, for the most part. If you’re ok with good enough or browsing, then you’ll let the Bot throw things at you and just enjoy the ride. However, if you want a specific answer you’re going to have to be smart and calibrate the Bot to have a more focused search. There are ways to do this, and trust me, once you know how it isn’t as scary as it sounds. You may even be doing some of this already. As I continue this series I promise to go into more specific detail.
If you have information on the web, be it a book, a blog, a product, or a concept you may be more concerned about how people find what you have to offer. This is where things like keywords, tagging, and SEO optimization come in. Those that know how to do this can do very well. But it can be abused; sending people things they really don’t want just because the right words have been entered in the equation. And we all know how much we hate getting sent things we don’t want.
So how do you do it? Well first you learn the system and how it works. This goes for search engines like Google and Yahoo! But also applies to specialized search engines like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you know how the system works, how people search for information and why, then you can adjust your information to make it easier for those that want you information to find it.
In the next segment I will go into detail on keywords and how people use them and how they affect what is retrieved. I will focus on Google and Amazon as examples, but the concepts can be applied to many search engines out there.