A constant cat-and-mouse game between the major Internet search engines and search engine optimization (SEO) companies has an interesting result: As these two groups try to psych each other out to beat the other’s system, search capabilities are constantly improving for the consumer of Internet services.
Here’s what happens: Each search engine develops a formula for producing the most accurate, relevant results according to the Internet user’s keyword search, and then the SEO companies analyze the search engine’s function and develop a system of strategies to allow their customers to take advantage of that formula. Common strategies include providing enriched text blocks (a few paragraphs of text containing multiple keywords likely to be picked up by the search engines), general interest articles, with embedded links, on particular topics relevant to the customer, development of multiple links to the customer’s site from other websites, and a combination of sponsored links and pay-per-click ads (paid ads which appear on other websites). This combination of strategies promises to improve a website’s ranking in the search results, a valuable asset in cyberspace; if a company can land on the first page of a keyword search, the probability of the Internet user visiting its website skyrockets.
Of course, as soon as the SEO companies figure out a particular search engine’s formula, the search engine changes the rules, since the search engine’s honchos want to provide the most accurate, up-to-date, and relevant information, and not allow website owners to game the system. And of course the SEO companies respond with new, more sophisticated strategies. The result to Internet users is a constantly improving ability to search efficiently for the goods, services, and information they need.
Google is the biggest game in town, but other search engines have their following; Alta Vista is popular among college students and serious researchers, for instance. There’s also dogpile.com, a search engine that searches all the other major search engines and pulls up the most relevant results from each. And new search engines pop up all the time – Ask.com and AskJeeves.com are two examples of newer search engines with popular followings. A good SEO company will develop strategies not just for Google, but for all the major search engines.
Search engines aren’t perfect, of course, and one thing they can’t do at the moment is access specific information contained in the multitude of databases available on the Internet. Federal, state, and some local governments have searchable, free databases which allow users to access this information; other databases, such as Ancestry.com, charge a subscription fee for their use. For public information on the federal level in the U.S., FirstGov.gov is a great place to start.
Search strategies exist for the web surfer as well. Just try doing a Google search for tax information, for instance. Type “taxes” into the keyword search bar and click on Search. In the U.S. you’ll see irs.com, and then numerous companies advertising their tax services. But type in “taxes .gov” and you’ll pull up the same IRS site, followed by many more government website pages, some of which may provide more direct access to the information you need than going through irs.com, and without having to wade through a bunch of accounting firms. Type in “taxes UK .gov” and you pull up government information for the United Kingdom, and so on. Doing a keyword search on the general topic you’re researching should pull up relevant database sites. (By the way, if you want to see an example of great search engine optimization strategies, do a search on “genealogy” and look at all the links to Ancestry.com on the websites you find—they’re everywhere!)
As the cat-and-mouse game continues between search engine companies and SEO firms, the result promises to be ever more sophisticated, powerful, and accurate techniques for accessing valuable information over the Internet. As the continuing success of more and more new search engines suggests, we may have only scratched the surface of our Internet information technology capabilities.