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Search Industry Is Broken, and Vendors Better Fix It

Have you found it increasingly difficult to find information using Google’s search engine lately? You are not alone. Search engine optimization, commonly called SEO, is making it more difficult to find relevant content on the Web.

You conduct a simple search for information and all you find are: websites that point to other sites, sites that want you to buy something, sites that appear totally unrelated to your search criteria, and sites that seem to be search engines themselves. Where has all the useful content gone?

I will share some tips with you for how to improve your searches but first I want to explain what is happening to the search business. While Google is being targeted due its leading position in the market, other search vendors such as Yahoo and MSN are not immune.

The problem can be loosely defined as spamdexing which represents the use of search engine optimization to improve the ranking of a website. There are many ways to ensure that a website is returned near the top of a Google search. Some are legitimate but many are not.

Ideally, when you enter a series of search terms, the URLs returned should contain useful and relevant information related to your keywords. More and more of the search results we are getting are blatant examples of spamdexing. Many are just empty shell sites attempting to collect fees through Google’s pay per click advertising program.

Many companies are baiting the search engines with content spam. They stuff popular keywords into websites seeking to sell you something. They play games with font sizes and colors to fool Google into thinking the content is relevant. They scrape content from other sites to lure us in.

Another frustrating problem is the proliferation of link spam. Google gives more weight to sites that are linked to by many other sites. The theory is that if many sites link to yours, your site must be relevant and useful.

Link spam manifests itself in several forms. There are link farms, websites that are nothing more than collections of links to other websites. There are companies that buy up many domain names and have them link to each other to increase their Google ranking.

Blog spam is another variation. It is an approach where people insert unrelated links into blogs to make Google believe the site being referenced is popular. This technique also works with wikis, forums, guestbooks and anywhere visitors may enter comments.

These are just the simple, manual techniques. There are also more complex schemes involving customized software going by names like mirroring, redirection and cloaking.

I will not go into all the details here but you get the idea. The search industry is broken!

All the major search engines have spamdexing report systems in place. If you find a site completely unrelated to your search, report it to the search engine you used. It will help them weed out the worst offenders and improve future results.

In the meantime, taking advantage of Google’s advanced search capabilities will help. Here are some of the more common and useful advanced search features. Try them out and see if your results improve.

By default, your search will look for all the words you enter whether they occur together or scattered about the page. Use double quotes around a string to search for a phrase rather than a set of words. The results of a search for "top rated car" will be quite different with and without the quotes.

You can also use the OR operator to look for one word or another or both. For example, if searching for portable computers, entering 'laptop OR notebook' (without the quotes) will capture either term.

The NOT operator can be useful as it excludes search terms from the results. For example, 'desktop telephone -cordless' returns results that do not include the word cordless.

These techniques barely scratch the surface of what you can do. Try clicking on the "Advanced Search" link on Google or other search engines. You will find the ability to restrict your search to a single website or to restrict the results to specific file types such as PDFs or DOCs.

You can even limit the search to words occurring in the page title, the URL or in links to the page. Just beware that spamdexing is rampant in these areas so use this technique in combination with those mentioned above.

A great tool for taking advantage of Google’s advanced searching is a site called Soople. Soople is a front end to Google that simplifies advanced searching. The site is not affiliated with Google. They just make googling easier.

There are many companies that specialize in search engine optimization. They make a living helping clients improve their search engine ranking. There is a legitimate business purpose for these activities as companies seek our attention and establish market positioning.

Unfortunately, search optimization techniques are not difficult to master making it easy for sites run by unscrupulous people to achieve high rankings.

I am singling out Google in this article because they are the undisputed leader in Internet searching but Yahoo, MSN, Ask and all the others are plagued by the same problems. The industry leaders need to join forces to weed out irrelevant content and improve search results.

It is not just a matter of finding information. It is also important to filter out unneeded and unwanted information. It is time for the search vendors to take searching up a notch.

Vin D'Amico is Founder and President of DAMICON, your ADJUNCT CIO™. He helps companies avoid the subtle mistakes that cause missed deadlines, lost opportunities and fragile results. He shows them agile approaches that slash risk and cut development time so they get to market 25-50% faster. He helps them carry that momentum into the sales cycle using white papers and case studies that accelerate the selling process.

This article appeared in Vin's monthly Virtual Business column for the IndUS Business Journal in February 2008.

To learn more about how DAMICON can help your business, please take a look at our service programs.

Virtual Business

Virtual Business

This column appears monthly in the IndUS Business Journal.