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Thoughts On The Search Engine Industry

I thought it might be fun to write what I have noticed recently in the ongoing evolution of the Search Engine industry. To help set the stage – allow me to provide a little background.

That was then…

I was very active in building websites in the mid to late 90’s, I know, I know – that was oh so last century. I learned a great deal about how to help my clients get their websites into good positions on the search engines without using what is referred to today as Blackhat SEO. Eventually my interest in developing websites led to a position in a small dot com where I developed an application for the Automobile Insurance Industry – connecting Claim Service Representatives to a network of repair shops. Fun stuff!

Through an usual turn of events – I ended up starting a small business manufacturing surfboard shaped signs for the surf retail and specialty store markets. Maybe you have seen them for sale in stores like the Ron Jon Surf Shops or the Margaritaville Stores. When it came time to move our product list to the web, I selected an open source shopping cart and after a month of customizing the user interface – went to market. After getting our products online – it was time to focus on optimizing the site for the search engines, and make an attempt to position the sites as best as possible.

Having been “out of the industry” for nearly a decade, I was certain it would not be an easy challenge to spin up again and learn the tricks of the trade and all the new do’s and don’ts of modern day SEO. Turns out, there’s a new bag of tricks being used, but the old fashioned, tried and true methods of generating valuable content – still apply today just like they did 10 years ago and are still rewarded when found by the search engines.

So there you have it, an unusual perspective at best. Having been out of the industry for so long, it was really fascinating to see the changes that have taken place and be in a position to compare them to the way it was when I exited the arena.

What follows are some key observations and occasional postulations on where I think the Internet search industry might be headed. Having gotten our background behind us… here’s the first of three articles I intend to write.

Article 1: Googles Rendition of the Hawthorn Effect

For those that aren’t familiar with the term “Hawthorn Effect” here’s a brief definition and explanation.

The term Hawthorn Effect refers to the tendency of some people to work harder and perform better when they are participants in an experiment. Individuals may change their behavior due to the attention they are receiving from researchers rather than because of any manipulation of independent variables.

This effect was first discovered in 1924 and named by researchers at Harvard University who were studying the relationship between productivity and work environment. Researchers conducted these experiments at the Hawthorn Plant of Western Electric in Chicago Il. and found that productivity increased due to attention from the research team and not because of changes to the experimental variable.

So… how does this relate to Google in this century?

Google is watching you. Before you get excited and run to grab your bathrobe – I don’t mean in a clandestine or illicit way – but in a user behavioral and beneficial manner. Google is working on several products and projects that will eventually reshape how the search engine will respond to your interaction. Google captures your request for information and measures the response to the data it provides to you. By measuring your response, Google obtains key data that helps them understand how to better manipulate the results that are being returned to you. There are several tools currently in place or that are in various stages of beta testing to help them determine their course of action and refine their process in their effort to produce a better user experience for you – their customer.

One such tool is the “Web History” utility that is now available to all users of Google Search. Using this tool, Google will collect information about the sites you visit and use it to generate a better response to your queries. Some of the key points of the utility are:

1) The ability to view and manage your web activity – search across the full text of the pages you’ve visited, including Google Searches, web pages, images and news stories.

2) Get search results that are more personalized and based on the things you’ve searched for on Google and the sites you’ve visited.

3) Get reports on your trends and web activity – how many searches did you conduct and at what time of the day. Which sites do you frequent the most?

You can read more about the capabilities and features of Web History here: http://www.google.com/psearch

How will Web History affect the Search Engine industry?

It will help Google provide you with results that you want to see the most, and, when combined with another tool in the beta process, will help remove items that you are not interested in seeing in your search results.

Want to try an experiment?

Break out your google goggles and let’s get started! Begin by creating a user account with Google. Then turn Web History on for a week or so, and chase your tail looking at keywords that are specific to the ranking of your website or a site you are maintaining. Check several times a day, closing and relaunching your browser each time you check. Eventually you are going to see a message near the top of the window that the results of your search are being influenced by… you guessed it… Web History. Pay attention to where your site is ranking with Web History turned on.

Now, after a week of allowing “Web History” to collect some information… go to your google account and turn it off, and check your page positions on Google for the same Keywords? Did you see any difference? You betcha! Google is watching you and capturing your behavior and they are manipulating your search results to match your expectations and what they perceive is your preference based on the “experiences” they have collected from you. If Web History perceives that Blue Donuts by a particular manufacturer are important to you in the majority of your searches, they will bubble to the top of the page while other Blue Donuts by different manufactures will sink lower and lower.

Is it the end of the Search Engine Optimizing Industry?

Probably not, factors that will account for the appearance of one sites links above another may not be completely limited to the users interaction and preference in the future, other traditional factors such as content and page ranking may continue to play a part in winning the position on the page ahead of some of the clients perceived preferences, in addition to other new developments currently underway.

Does it end here?

I for one don’t think so. There’s at least two more prominent areas where Google can capture user preferences and then modify the result set to meet their expectations, and they are actively testing or running programs to do exactly that right now. I’ll cover the second area in my next article. “There’s Room for 10”.

This is my first online article and I’d like to thank those that have taken the time to read it. I hope you will find this useful and that it might stimulate some additional discussion on the subject material covered.

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About the Author: Gaver Powers is the owner of and actively maintains the following web sites: www.TropicSigns.com, www.AuthenticEndlessSummer.com, www.SurfboardSigns.com.

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