As a web developer search engines are part of what butters my bread. With out them, my clients would not be able to sell their goods or services to the masses as easily as they do. With out the innovation and popularity the web would be much less user friendly, and fewer people would see it as a valuable tool.
Search engines are great… but they also suck.
I have this discussion with clients almost on a weekly basis:
Client: Francois, The Wig Maker
Tom: Bon Jour Francois.
F: Bon Jour…
T: What can I do for you?
F: I need my website to get higher placement on the search engines… how you say the Googles?
T: Ok, well since we built the site it has been optimized for search engine spidering, however we really need to include more dynamic content… like a blog, or rss feed.
F: Uh…what is this feed?
T: It is syndicated content that users can subscribe to, that can be updated easily, and is indexed often by search engines.
F: Uh… a blog.
T: Yes, a blog is an online journal that you can update with new content. It allows your users to interact with the website, to participate.
F: Uh… oui…oui…
T: Do you have staff available to manage a blog?
F: Uh… no… my wife, but she has the gout… you know gout?
T: I am sorry to hear that… well there are other alternatives, but most of them require spending money. Do you have a budget?
F: Uh… how much?
T: Well I would recommend starting with a Google Adwords campaign. It is probably the quickest way to get results in Google. But, first you need to establish a daily, weekly, and monthly budget. We need to establish a list of key words and phrases that your potential customers might search on.
T: What are some words that you would want to optimize for?
F: Well, we are unveiling a new line of merkins for the fall, and Christmas Season. Do you know merkin?
T: Yes… but I have never owned one.
F: We are really counting on a big merkin season this fall… I read that they are the fashion rage in Montreal and most of Quebec.
T: Uh… ok … so we would want to decide how much you are willing to spend per click when ever someone does a search for merkin on Google.
F: Every click… won’t that get expensive?
T: It can…
F: What else can we do?
T: Francois, you really need to look at SEO, search engine optimization as part of your marketing budget, and budget appropriately for it. We also have SEO programs where we monitor the site rankings on a daily basis, based on key words and phrases, and make adjustments as required. This process has a minimum of 6 month commitment and runs about $1,000.00 per month.
F: Uh… why so expensive.
T: Well Francois, it’s a tough business, that takes a lot of time and effort, and I cannot guarantee any results, and if any company does guarantee results, go in the other direction. Are you still interested?
F: Oh mon dieu… qui est trop d’argent… ce qui vous me pensent suis fait d’argent… Je n’ai pas vendu un merkin encore.
T: Uh… I’ll take that as a no.
The search engine “provides us a gateway to knowledge” [Halavais] and makes easy the access to goods and services for consumers and sellers. It makes the global marketplace available to the local consumer. It has the potential to be a great tool of democracy and tool of the unbiased dissemination of information, but it is first and foremost a tool of commerce. A part of a business plan that generates value for the stockholders. Google, and most other search companies are in it for the profits. They are not there to make the world a better place, although they might say they are, but as of today the price per share of Google stock is $660.00 per share.
Proprietary algorithms make the Google search unique, and from my experience very difficult to deal with. It changes on a regular basis, so once you think you’ve done something right, all of the sudden you back on page 25. This has presented a real challenge to me as a developer. As I illustrated above, many of my customers do not understand the first thing about search engines, although they all use them. They are clueless as to why there site doesn’t rank up there with a national competitor. And, it usually boils down to how much money they have to spend.
Google, like most of the major media outlets, has a bias… it likes those people that spend money. It is very tough for the little guy to get ahead in Google. Eventually, Google will make so much money that it will probably open itself up and share its search algorithms as an act of commons benevolence. Or, some other player will fight the good open source fight, as Firefox did, and rapidly challenge Google as the search engine of choice – WikiSearch?
I am not going to hold my breath for this to happen. I agree that better searching methods need to be developed and adopted, to give access to all users, and make search a more reliable tool, but will anyone really give it away? I don’t think so. The markets are too large and the money is too great. The vertical search engines will become more specialized based cultures, language, topics, etc… Most likely there will be several tiers of search engines: Google will index the indices and the indices will index the content. Much like cable TV, the content will become segmented into channels: ESPN – 24 hour sports, Food Network – 24 hour food, Game Show Network 24 hour game shows, MTV – 24 hours of something… 257 channels and there’s nothing on.
It would be ideal if the search engine of tomorrow gave us unbiased search results that were catered to our exact needs, and it might happen, but plan on lots and lots of pop-ups, banners, and spam. Targeted advertising drives the internet, and reliable search drives targeted advertising.