The Power of Search

The following article was written by Twelve Horses for the local publication, RLife magazine. Keep in mind that it was written for a wide audience, many of whom might not understand what search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) entail. If you are looking for greater specifics then you might be interested in reading this recent SEO and SEM press release or Contacting Us.

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The other day, I was preparing to leave my house for work when I heard my dog begin to bark. This was followed by the familiar sound of something smacking the ground. Concerned that something was awry, I hurried outside to see what was upsetting Goose. There, in all its yellow glory was the guide of all guides, my conduit to all the pizzas and plumbers that Northern can serve up. It was my brand new Yellow Book.

I brought it inside, and then began to ponder what to do with this enormous paper weight. Would my life be incomplete without this directory, or could I afford to feed it to the recycling bin?

What was really going on in my head was the evaluation of the World Wide Web today. Did I feel confident that I could find whatever I needed in Northern simply by searching for it online? My conclusion was “sort of” because the reality is that online search is only as good as those who want to be, or know how to be, found.

As more websites are created, and more people get in the habit of searching for what they want online, appearing in the results of search engines like Google, Yahoo, or MSN becomes increasingly important. But how does it work? The most important part of the equation is to understand what keywords people like us are using to find things.

For example, one of the things that can boast is an exceptional array of diverse and delicious restaurants. You probably know that if you live here, but you might not get that impression from searching online. Why? Because either there are not a lot of individual restaurant websites, or they are not designed for search engines to find them. But people are searching. Web-savvy locals are comparing eateries before booking a reservation, and visitors are researching dining options for their vacation; and it all starts with the words they know. They open up their favorite web browser and type a keyword or keyword phrase like “reno dining.”

When I typed in “ dining” Google kicked back 2,170,000 results for me. Whew, that’s a lot! Why so many? Well, the first thing the search engine does is look for websites with the specific phrase of “reno dining” and then the keywords of “reno” and “dining.” We don’t really have to be concerned with all of the results because those that appear first are what the search engine considers to be most relevant. Of course, it is not a perfect system because it is built by humans and manipulated by humans, but what is really cool about it is that it is in large part dictated by you and me.

The search engine places great importance on how keywords are used throughout the website. If these keywords don’t match up to what we think they should be, then you and I don’t find it and they can’t get our if we don’t know they exist. Another factor is how many inbound links the website receives, and what the qualities of those websites are. If reputable websites within the greater online community are not linking to a particular website then the search engines assume it is not as important. Finally, the search engines also take into account how individual users have interacted with the site in the past, which includes the amount of time people like us have spent on the site and how many clicks of the mouse the site receives. If you are interested in more information about natural search try Googling the term, “search engine optimization.”

The power of search is only as powerful as the people who use it. In the end, I decided to keep my Yellow Book because I don’t think we’re completely there yet. There is still a large customer base that is not in the habit of using the Web to find what they’re seeking. In addition, there are a lot of small businesses out there that have not yet begun to explore the benefits of a web presence. What’s exciting, however, is that it’s getting much easier and cheaper for businesses to get online as new types of software tools are designed and built. For example, look at WordPress.org. WordPress is empowering millions of people by giving them the tools to develop their own websites, which can then be found by the search engines.

So, I reluctantly stuffed my Yellow Book away in one of those drawers you reserve for stuff you don’t really want to deal with or see. I probably won’t pull it out again before the next one comes, unless, of course, I need to order a pizza.

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