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Coping with Search Clutter

Kevin M. Ryan
Coping with Search Clutter Kevin M. Ryan

It's spring time in New York City, and a young man's thoughts drift far away from the daily grind. Managing listings and adjusting creative and bid processes seem only a distant memory. I begin searching for the reasons how what I have come to call the search ecoplasty will achieve information utopia.

Indexing the world's information is a noble endeavor. Search brings the connected universe just a bit closer to understanding and obtaining just about anything-- on demand. Yet as the business of search expands, tactics for achieving listing equity in paid, natural and content worlds may be pushing users away.

Search has reached a milestone, and as Google stock needles toward reality, a concern about the direction we are headed begins to surface. How do we define the lethal dose of results that will force users to ignore search provided content? Are we asking users to think too much?
Content is king, unless you are a PR junky

Anyone who knows anything about search engine optimization will include a PR strategy in the deployment of a search initiative. The words used and positions of words can affect optimization PR efforts. Even the press wires one uses affect the benefits seen from press release traffic.

Yesterday, a lead generation company I have never contracted with issued a press release using my firm's name as its attention grabbing headline. The release was packed with relevant keywords and even appeared to be associated with my firm.

In the interactive marketing world, press releases are king; search engine marketing firms use them to their utmost ability as an effective tool for garnering page positions and valuable traffic.

A key goal of any search optimization effort includes managing the reputation of your brand, not your search listings, or perhaps finding the right way to accomplish both.

And then, the bumbling idiots arrived

Ever wonder why you are bombarded by the most inane information the world has ever seen? Companies issue press releases when they achieve the most basic of milestones -- an agency client award for an unknown brand or insignificant professional assignment -- because they generate traffic.

One firm even issued a press release when a senior manager was up for a popular industry position re-election. Now there's a smart move. Shockingly, there was no follow up release when the candidate failed to achieve victory in the election.

The argument for releasing a notification when your dog has a birthday is simple. More exposure equals more traffic and revenue. However, a phalanx of innocuous content does not equal a valuable user experience and certainly doesn't qualify as news.

Creeping results

Another move toward making almost anything readily accessible is the over monetization of not ready for prime time search technologies. After catching up with the genius using my firm's name yesterday, I spent a few moments looking at the surface of Mars.

You can do that with Google Mars. I love it. I really do. How could you not, really? Leaving aside the otherwise usefulness quotient, half the page was obstructed with a grey background advisory text encouraging users to reconfigure their map. My new configuration-- more grey background text.

Release your mapping tool to the developer public and you are guaranteed at least one Darwin award candidate announcing to the world his favorite place to buy tuna, tea bags, and tilapia. The other 6, 446, 131, 399 people on planet earth may have been unaffected, but there was certainly nothing in it for them.

I could go on with endless examples of technology that is quite plainly before its time, but you get the picture, product, image, video, map and blog results motif.

Releasing search products long before they are ready or overcrowding search results with images, products, Uncle Bob's vacation video or erroneous local data doesn't help shape the future of search, it forms a strong barrier between the user and search connected content.

What content?

Want a worthless part time job? Respond to the want ads looking for copywriters hired at pennies a word to regurgitate content owned by third parties. This content designed to be placed on websites for the sole purpose of enhancing a search presence.

Right now, thousands of college students could be cranking out pages for lesser grades of beer (we all loved it so much back then) and the precious few dollars than can provide access to competitively priced intoxication.

Said content is designed specifically for the search sites in building their vast armies of billions upon billions of pages indexed. The number of pages compared seems to provide some level of distinction. In other words, size matters, but in this case, it really shouldn't

Why is any of this important?

Today's technological interaction is cumbersome. It requires thought. It requires lots of decision making with devices, connections, service providers, operating systems and platforms. Above all, the interaction requires patience, particularly with search as it exists today.

An upcoming release of the Nielsen Norman Group's latest round of usability studies states that users did not look at a Google text ad on a content page any more than that of banner ads on the page. The question of viewing ads is just the beginning since search results of all types assail users with listing content of every make and model.

If people were having difficulty finding what they seeking three years ago (when reports began to appear that called search engine effectiveness into question), then how do you think those would rank search today? In a better, or worse position?

Editor's hint: A high ranking for your dog's birthday doesn't count.

In the end, who cares what it is all about?

In the not too distant future search will have migrated from an indexing utility into something much more essential and useful for our lives. We will use search technologies to help us locate everything we need and desire on every screen we interact with. We will be required to think less when interacting with technology and search-- allowing us to do more than we ever dreamed possible.

Some would argue that commercialization -- the practice of big corporate helping to standardize and formalize web content -- compromises the integrity of the user initiated and free web we have come to know and love. 

The LD50 (semi-lethal dose) of search lies in the very nature of its origin -- indexed information for all, goes the mantra -- yet the only solution for reducing lethal doses of content and the subsequently corrupt search destiny lies in its capacity for more regulation and commercialization by those who would be responsible for the next generations of technologies.

There are smart ways to add content to the web and help people find it. There are great ways to use search to its potential with branding and direct response. Sacrificing user experience en masse is a feigned attempt at doing so on its best day.

iMedia Search Editor Kevin M. Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations. 
Ryan is Managing Partner at Kinetic Results.


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