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P.O. Box 1421
San Rafael, CA 94915
415 / 456-6265


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Why Are Search Engines So Dumb?
Will they someday read Web sites like people do?
By Reid M. Neubert

On the one hand, I’m always astounded when I stop and think about what is happening when I search for something using Google. Type any subject into the search box, click Search, and literally in the blink of an eye, there is page after page of results. It’s just amazingly fast.

That part is great. On the other hand, sometimes the actual results that appear instantaneously are better than others. In fact, it can be frustrating to try to narrow the search down to something that yields useful results. That is because search engines are still pretty dumb. And they are much too literal.

A prime example is my last article, “What is Your Special Sauce?” Even though the article talks about “selling hamburgers” and having a “special sauce,” it is clearly about branding and marketing. It is clear to people, that is, but it wouldn’t be to search engines.

Find Me, Please!
It is each business’ hope, of course, that their Web site appears, if not in the top slot, at least on the first page of the search results. Depending on how much competition there is for their search topics, that can be quite a feat. On the other hand, the more obscure or specialized their topics are, the easier it is to get a site to show up at or near the top of the search results.

“Optimizing” a Web site so that it places well in search results is what’s known as search engine optimization, or “SEO.” It is a hot topic in marketing. There are white hat SEO consultants and black hat. But let’s not get into that.

When we create Web sites for clients, we always make sure that they are a least search-engine friendly. That means they are coded so they are visible to and readable by search engines, with the proper tags and such in place behind the scenes. If it is especially important for the client to place as well as possible in search results, we can get into full optimization for them – white-hat optimization. That has a lot to do with how the content of the site is written.

This is where things get tricky. We have to remember that the Internet, the ginormous information network that it is, is still just a few years old. And even with the great strides they have made, search engines are still fairly rudimentary. They are still lacking in what they can do to match up the hundreds of millions of Web pages with a search query.

Find Me, How?
Let me explain what I mean. Say you were looking for, oh, a branding and marketing firm like Reid Neubert + Friends. You might type some combination of those words – brand, branding, marketing, strategy, consultant, firm, company, etc. – into your favorite search engine. The problem is that good marketing copy talks more about prospective clients and their needs than it does about the business providing the service. Therefore, in our case, I want to talk more about how Reid Neubert + Friends can help potential clients than about Reid Neubert + Friends.

But copy that will help my site place well in search results needs to be “keyword rich.” In other words, it must use those search terms in combinations that we can determine people are using to search with, and use them several times. The challenge is to make the site engaging for visitors while still incorporating the all-important keyword phrases. Otherwise, the dumb search engines can’t match the site up with the search query!

Someday I’m sure Google et al will improve the intelligence of their search engines to the point where they are not so literal, but for now, these types of things are still issues when trying to make a site as findable as possible. The search engines are constantly working to improve the quality and relevance of results they show, but it’s going to be a while yet before they can make these big leaps forward.

Copyright 2007 by Reid M. Neubert. All rights reserved.