The State of Search

Your friendly neighborhood search engine–what could be more familiar? Lately, though, whether you search with Google, Yahoo!, MSN, or some other search engine, you’ll find big changes in the works. Some of these will make your life easier, some will drive you crazy — and some will give you advertising when and where you least expect it. Clint Dixon gives you the straight story on what users and webmasters can expect.

Ahhh, now here is a subject most will have some familiarity with. Internet users are aware of search engines and how they are an integral part of our daily lives. Whether used for shopping, comparison shopping, research, investigation, or, for some, making a living based on helping others solve the complex issues of search engine optimization and how to get listed in the search engines results listings.

Currently there are several major initiatives under way at your friendly search engine of choice, to make your life simpler by having new tools developed, such as desktop search appliances. Google, AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, and Amazon’s A9 all offer search tools that will explore not only the World Wide Web and return relevant results, but will now go the extra mile and search your hard drive. Lycos released its HotBot Desktop tool earlier this year, and Ask Jeeves acquired a desktop search technology in June from Tukaroo.

Is it really that new of an idea? It certainly raises issues of privacy for many already leery of having their computers usage monitored, tabulated, and made available to marketing firms, behavioral research groups, and more. The fears of consumers and the hype by search engine marketers that this “new” tool is needed in our lives have raised concerns of privacy invasion and intrusion deeper into our personal lives. However, this innovation that the search engines are touting has been on your computer for years. Windows offers its own search tool that will allow you to search not only your desktop, but networked computers and the World Wide Web. With the Windows search tool there was worry of intrusion, but those fears had for the most part been alleviated.

What Google, MSN, Yahoo, and the others are trying to do is add the monetary equation of the search tools offered in your operating system in a stand alone easy access desktop search tool. There is growing need for the major search engines to appear more relevant. One way they are doing this is via new offerings to make searching easier for you and your busy life. The new tool does not increase the relevancy of the results, however, and this is where all of them could do a much better job.

In the current state of the search engine wars, relevancy is the keyword du jour. With the constant changes occurring within the search engines themselves, they have left website owners, webmasters, marketing, and search engine professionals everywhere confused as to what is relevant and what is not.

Google, since its recent initial public offering, has made a full court press to increase its revenues with the release of Gmail, as well as its desktop search tool, and offering to place its search tool on websites. While this may be good for keeping investors happy, Google has thrown wrenches into its search algorithm that have the owners of websites sitting on edge, worrying about what is next from the search giant.

As recently as two months ago, Google was using the meta description tag to help it return relevant results. We all know that the meta keyword tags had not been used for years due to abuse with keyword stuffing in the meta keyword tags on Web pages.

Google also completed a back link update which lowered Page Rank on many websites and sent webmasters again to the many forums seeking answers on Google’s ways. There has also been a significant slowdown from Google in indexing websites and returning those results in the natural search listings otherwise known as organic results. What once took around thirty (30) days is now stretched to close to sixty (60) to ninety (90) days for websites new to the Internet life.

On the Pay Per Click side of the search engines, there are still fact-based rumblings within many areas regarding click-through fraud that occurs, as well as a growing insanity in the bidding for keyword terms, which (researchers are discovering) does not need to happen as only twenty percent (20%) of the keyword terms available are over $1.00 The other eighty percent (80%) can be had on average for under twenty cents (US$0.20).

A personal observation I would like to make: I have found Google still returning shopping results pulled from Yahoo!’s Directory, yet it does not appear that Yahoo! is reciprocating the favor. Which search engine is trying to be more relevant and which one the mad cash cow?

Over in the Yahoo! search world, the search engine is having a flashback in time to the old tried and abused Meta keyword tag. Now, before everyone rushes out to toss fifty keywords into the Meta keyword tag, Yahoo! is using it to match against the content of your body. Since they are using it to match, it has been surmised that having keywords there that do not match body content will earn a demerit of sorts in Yahoo!’s relevancy factoring.

Another interesting development that was discovered is Yahoo! now seems to be banning cross linked websites from its natural results listings. A simple example of cross linking  is building a website selling widgets using all static html pages on your hosting server, then building another web site on the same server with a different domain name selling those same widgets but using a PHP- or ASP-based website, and then linking the sites to each other.

Meanwhile, AOL has released their desktop search appliance, and while AOL has suffered declining membership in the past few years, they are still a huge membership portal with many of the features other search engines are just now starting to offer. With the addition of this new feature, AOL has shoved itself into the competition to be your one stop portal for all the “relevant” needs in your life.

If enough of the members with AOL install this appliance and make use of its search features, advertisers will soon pay attention and perhaps turn their slated media spend on Google and Yahoo! over to AOL, which is a marketing behemoth few would like to contend with. AOL’s users likely don’t go to Google to search, and will most likely use the AOL tool. It’s fast, easy, and currently pulls its results from Google.

A9 meanwhile has released its own search tool which combines searching the Web with a search of image results enhanced by Google Images, Search Inside the Book® results from its parent company, Amazon.com, intertwined with reference results from GuruNet, and movies results from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), it allows you to take notes on your search, helps you organize your searches, allows you to bookmark your searches, wipe out the searching you have done that you do not want left behind, and uses your search history to return results specific to your interests.

Amazon.com was one of the first to feel the brunt of the privacy advocates with its release of the search engine A9, but undoubtedly not the last. These concerns will only rise as new technological advances are made, allowing marketers and advertisers closer into our lives than they are currently.

The next media barrage will be for the personal communication devices which a lot of people already own. Where better to reach you than at the end of your arm? No matter where you go, an ad will be closer than it has ever been before. There is also a lot of attention being placed within the marketing world on advertising in video games, drawing on that wonderful target market of short attention span theater inhabitants, the youth of the world.

Over in the open source world of search, the Open Directory Project appears to be anything but open. On freelance job posting websites there have been claims from people who are category editors at the dmoz directory, who would insert a client’s web site into the database for a fee.

The Open Directory Projects DMOZ directory has historically been closed lipped and tight mouthed about its inner workings and deciding what is relevant. The DMOZ hard line approach is to keep the web relevant, but the lack of communication or change seen coming from anywhere with the organization appear to be having a reverse effect, as many webmasters, website owners, marketers and search professionals have learned that front page search engine results on Google, MSN, Yahoo! and the other major search engines are possible without a vote from DMOZ.

The only certain thing with regard to search engines is nothing will be the same and change will occur. Those websites that place a concerted effort into their search engine optimization strategies or who outsource the search engine marketing to competent professionals will succeed in their goals of attracting targeted buying traffic.

Search engine optimization is not a science but more of an art. Those who fit the most pieces of the puzzle together are awarded the grand prize of free front page listings on the worlds largest classified advertising vehicles, Internet search engines.

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