Search engines are just like teenagers. Don’t believe me? Consider this analogy.
Let's say you have a teenage kid with a handful of friends. He knows them very well and even remembers their phone numbers by heart. He’s bright and it doesn’t take him long to become very popular at school. Now, he has dozens of friends. While extremely intelligent, he doesn’t have the memory to recall all his new friends’ contact info. Now he uses a paper address book to keep track of them, looking them up by their initials.
Later, he discovers social media sites on the Internet and gets addicted. He gains hundreds of friends all around the world. He genuinely wants to stay in touch with them but his paper address book is no good and he upgrades to a web-based electronic one. Now he can find any friend by simply typing in the first or last name. After joining several social networks and starting his own blog, he has several thousand friends. Suddenly he is faced with another unforeseen challenge: many friends have the same name! He needs to use a differentiating piece of information, their country or city for example, to tell them apart. But in several cases even this fails; he has three friends in Korea named John Kim, and two of them in Seoul! He has to tell them apart by age.
Now imagine that this kid is a search engine and his friends are our web pages. Instead of a few thousand listings, search engines have to sort through billions to find what is being searched for. This is when things get really interesting.
Search’s adult dilemma
We all know that search engines use keywords to differentiate documents, but do we understand why using keywords in the body of a web page is not enough to differentiate it when there are several million web pages with similar characteristics? Just like in our social teenager analogy, the more listings there are, the more differentiating information search engine needs to tell them apart. So far, search engines are depending on info from incoming links, the information that is outside or “off-page.” But will that be enough in the future? Are links going to cut it?
My personal opinion is that search engines will keep looking for outside quality signals besides links. I mentioned some of them in a previous post, but when I reflect on this, I think that even those will not be enough. Site owners and content writers will ultimately need to learn at least basic SEO. They will need to help search engines by creating content that stands out and, at the same time, easier to find and navigate.
At some point, there will need to be cooperation between all the moving parts. It is easier to organize what has at least some basic organization than what doesn't have any in the first place. Search engines will keep trying, but should we leave all the heavy lifting to them?
What do your think?