Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Search Engines, or: “The world according to Google.”

Note: (The following is another snippet from my essay submitted for my third degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. It is not written for a high-tech audience, and is intended as a very broad overview.)

Google, the name of a popular search engine and a key player in the Web 2.0 movement, has begun to transform into both a noun and verb. To “google” something means to informally enter a search term into Google. While this is extremely convenient for a casual search, it can lead to a problem for your studio if your web page isn’t recognized by Google. To many users, “if it's not on Google, it doesn’t exist.” Even more worrisome: "if it's not in the first 5 results, it may as well not exist." How do these search engines determine what is listed, and more importantly, how do we use that to improve our standing?

Search engines such as Google primarily work by using a ranking system combined with "sophisticated text-matching techniques." The basic theory of a ranking system is that when web pages are linked to by others, the more relevant they becomes. As a page becomes more relevant, it climbs closer to the top of results returned. In some ways, the fight to be at the top of the search results is akin to advertising in the yellow pages, where many companies will place an "A" or "1" at the front of their name to be at the top of the list.

At the time of this writing, I am pleased to report that entering “Tang Soo Do” into Google returns the WTSDA homepage as the 2nd result. This is largely due to the fact that the Association Web Committee encourages studios to link back the WTSDA homepage, thus boosting its relevance according to Google. This policy has resulted in years of studio web pages building positive rankings for the Association homepage.

However, this success stresses the need to maintain a strong web page for the WTSDA, as it becomes the “first impression” for thousands of visitors. While it is no surprise that being at the top of list means more visits, the web audience is extremely fickle and is more than willing to use the "back" button on their browser to return to Google for something more in line with their expectations.

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