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July 24, 2003

Curses. A non-trivial post.

it is clear enough from looking at the search logs at the BBC that a large proportion of internet users do not understand the way that search engines interact with either the content they have indexed, the content that is available, or the content that they would rather have you see

Martin Belam's made another erudite posting on the use of search engines by Real People. It's particularly interesting because of the issue made by commercial sponsors about web use.

Two things spring to mind.

1) How much *should* Real People (tm) have to know about search engines and their relationships with the content they index?

I like to think of the model of TV listings magazines here. They contain advertising. Sometimes, at the more luridly-coloured end of the market, I suspect there is a slightly shady relationship between the broadcasters and the content that happens to get highly recommended.

Fundamentally their business model is based on (in order of importance)
a) people buying a magazine to get content
b) advertising around the content
c) a few sponsored/paid-for bits of editorial

If their business focussed on these revenues in the opposite order, nobody would buy the magainzes - they'd smell a rat in no time.

Yet search engines have got themselves in a bit of a fix. They can't do (a), (b) isn't bringing in the cash they'd hoped, and in some cases they have deliberately said they won't do it. So they're stuck with (c) as their best hope.

Yet this false ranking of listings is lying to the audience. It's devaluing the service day by day. And the removal of labelling of sponsored links will cause a huge plummeting of trust.

Search engines and advertisers have become complicit in the same self-delusion. That the advertisers deserve to have their brand links at the top of the listings, and can pay for it, and that the audience won't mind.

Advertisers should understand that people don't want to go to their sites. They know this on television - otherwise there would be no programmes between the adverts. The whole game is the use of content as glue to effectively trick people into going to the advertisers.

There are times when the system does go awry. I recently posted an entry about how to fix crackly speakers on a Samson Sever 260 studio amp. About which I received huge ribbing at a dinner party the other night. You know who you are. Anyway, because of my stature (as if) in the blog world, this entry is now ranked in Google above Samson's own site. Which I am not sure is strictly fair, and I can't help feeling glad that the post was very favourable about them. I've even been tempted to rewrite the post so the opening paragraph appearing in google gave a more balanced view of the whole post - it's about a pretty good product.

But then I guess google ultimately ranks the popularity of producers of content. And advertisers have to find a way of dealing with that. And with them.

So, given that it can go wrong both ways, if there was one thing, readily understood by someone with a reading age of 7, to be known about the search engine relationship, what should it be?

And would it be as scary as knowing that commercial tv is there for the benefit of the advertisers, rather than for the audience?

2) ermmmmmm
Damn. I should have written 2 down before I started 1) because I've incorporated it all into that.
In fact this whole thing is a bit long and rambling. Ah well, I'll wait for a bit and then rewrite it to say what I meant. Possibly.

Posted by Tom Dolan at July 24, 2003 02:07 PM

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tell me more about the speakers!

Actually this is really interesting. i know it sounds dumb but i had no idea search egines worked like this. I thought it was to do with how many times a word was mentioned on a site... am i unforgiveably ill informed

Posted by: Martha at July 24, 2003 02:19 PM

Well the vanilla situation is to do with how many people link to you. And how often people click through on your links. And a bit to do with the occurrences of words. Probably.

Martin Currybet Belam (and in fact loads of people) know far more about it than I do. But it's a working model that kind of gets you good stuff most of the time. And it's being skewed by advertisers.

Hmmmm, have got the beginnings of a cunning thought on this now...

Posted by: Tom at July 24, 2003 02:58 PM

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