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Why search is the new advertising June 30, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Search.
3 comments

“If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”
— Philosophical question

In class, we have spent a good amount of time talking about the way that media is changing. The public is spending more time consuming media, but less time focusing on it. We live in an age of continuous partial attention. Because people are inundated with media, they are quickly shifting from being passive consumers of media to active seekers of information.

This means that in order to get your message out, you can’t just buy an advertisement anymore. You need to make sure that people can discover you through search. It shouldn’t be surprising that the top three visited Web sites in the world — Yahoo!, Google and MSN.com — all are major search engines, according to data from Quantcast. If they can’t you might as well be that tree falling in the woods with no one to hear you.

Communicators in an age of digital influence need to know how search engines work and why they are important. For beginners, the book The Search does a great job of explaining how one of the most popular search engines, Google, works. Googleguide.com also explains the three parts of search pretty effectively (and in fewer words):

  1. The Crawler. These are also known as “spiders.” They are essentially the robots that traverse the Web and gather information about every page in existence.
  2. The Index. The index is where the crawlers send information about specific sites. It is a massive warehouse of information that catalogues sites by search terms
  3. The Interface. This is the front end — or the user experience — of a search engine. This is where the user enters his search term and how the results are displayed after the search is conducted.

Armed with knowledge of how search works is the critical foundation. The next step is to know how to leverage the way search works to get the information you want to appear in top results. Even though searches can often turn up tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of results, most users don’t go beyond the first twenty or thirty results to find what they are looking for. The process of creating your site to be discovered in search is called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

Rohit Bhargava takes the concept of SEO one step further. He notes that blogs and other social media generally score well in Google ranks because the number of links to a site is one of the criteria used in ranking algorithm, and blogs tend to trade links with one another. By making a site social media friendly, he argues, you not only help yourself in the social media sphere, but in the search realm as well.

He is spot on.

To crib his recommendations, try some of the following steps to make your blog or Web site not only sharable, but more discoverable:

  1. Increase your linkability – This is the first and most important priority for websites. Many sites are “static” – meaning they are rarely updated and used simply for a storefront. To optimize a site for social media, we need to increase the linkability of the content. Adding a blog is a great step, however there are many other ways such as creating white papers and thought pieces, or even simply aggregating content that exists elsewhere into a useful format.
  2. Make tagging and bookmarking easy – Adding content features like quick buttons to “add to del.icio.us” are one way to make the process of tagging pages easier, but we go beyond this, making sure pages include a list of relevant tags, suggested notes for a link (which come up automatically when you go to tag a site), and making sure to tag our pages first on popular social bookmarking sites (including more than just the homepage).
  3. Reward inbound links – Often used as a barometer for success of a blog (as well as a website), inbound links are paramount to rising in search results and overall rankings. To encourage more of them, we need to make it easy and provide clear rewards. From using Permalinks to recreating Similarly, listing recent linking blogs on your site provides the reward of visibility for those who link to you
  4. Help your content travel – Unlike much of SEO, SMO is not just about making changes to a site. When you have content that can be portable (such as PDFs, video files and audio files), submitting them to relevant sites will help your content travel further, and ultimately drive links back to your site.
  5. Encourage the mashup – In a world of co-creation, it pays to be more open about letting others use your content (within reason). YouTube’s idea of providing code to cut and paste so you can imbed videos from their site has fueled their growth. Syndicating your content through RSS also makes it easy for others to create mashups that can drive traffic or augment your content.
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