Anyone who runs a Web site will be familiar with search engine optimization. I don’t tend to do anything in particular to generate views. My posts are written about things I do or think. People who arrive from a search engine – and that’s most people since I don’t do a lot of promotion – will have typed in a query and it will have matched something on my site.
When you’re searching, it’s important to think about that aspect. The general Web is full of content but it’s mostly pretty stupid. If you are looking beyond the actual words on the page – for context, in other words – you need to use semantic search tools.
One of my all time favorite searches, used to try to find a page on my Web site, was this:
david whelan’s controversial blog on law libraries
I’d ruffled some feathers with a post and someone from a law firm or law library in St. Thomas County, Ontario, came hunting for it.
There are a few things that show the inadequacy of this search. First, it’s a sentence and Web search engines don’t generally handle natural language that well. Batching it into phrases – “david whelan” “law libraries” – would have been a more focused approach.
Next, the search was looking at the semantics of the post, not the content. Unless I’d used a word like controversial , this is a waste word. Just because some people thought the message was controversial does not mean that even a semantic or even one that handles sentiment analysis would necessarily have found this blog.
Similarly, there was a good chance the post didn’t discuss the word blog, since that’s the medium, not the message. In fact, this is a misuse of the term when they mean post (a blog is a collection of posts; I blog but I do not write a blog, I wrote a post).
Unless I was talking about law library blogging, this was a wasted word. Using words like on is also wasted effort, unless you’re looking for a particular phrase or term of art. In that case, you’d want to wrap it in quotation marks as a phrase.
People talk about information literacy and I suppose this is an example of the failings of people who you’d expect to know better. If you are using a search tool, you need to understand how it uses the words you pull together in your query. It doesn’t have ESP to try to determine the meaning behind your words. The person who used this search didn’t actually end up finding the page they sought, although using david whelan and law libraries will display this site on the first page of results for Google and Bing.