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Search Engine Intelligence from the Lycos 50

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A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2002 Conference, March 4-5, Boston, MA.

Search Engine Strategies keynote speaker Aaron Schatz entertained and enlightened attendees with the "trends of American culture" he observes as keeper of the Lycos 50 most popular search terms.

The Search Engine Strategies Conference in Boston included a new slot for a keynote speech on the second day. This was a chance to hear from one of the veterans and deep thinkers of the search industry -- Aaron Schatz of Lycos 50 from the Terra Lycos network. It was amusing, and thank goodness, since it was early in the morning for us west coasters, and offered some shocking insight into the mind of searchers.

Aaron's job, in his words, is to report on the "passions" of the visitors to Lycos.com. The Lycos 50 site provides not just the top 50 searches on Lycos for the week but insight into the "trends of American Culture." And that culture is not pretty.

Take Aaron's example of the most searched on phrase after September 11th -- not World Trade Center, not Osama Bin Laden, not New York City, but Nostradamus the "prophet of evil." Aaron cited this as an example of how fast big news items change the way people use the Internet. "When big news hits, people search on the web as fast as they turn on their tv, read papers, etc.," he said. "Only in the age of the Internet do "things" [information” move so fast."

In one of his many humorous moments he laughed "that as long as Britney Spears pictures exist so would the Internet." This was a sobering moment for many listeners as we realized that most of the "searching" done at Lycos reflected testostorone-driven young men's passions and their interest in pop culture icons.

But Lycos 50 and Aaron look for deeper, more meaningful trends that advertisers and marketers should note carefully. The example Aaron cited was "prom dresses." Searches for "prom dresses" increased dramatically starting in February. This shows an increase of young women online and the power of traditional advertising (all the young women's magazines have prom dresses featured in February) to change the demographics of searchers. If I sold clothing or prom accessories (event locations, flowers, shoes) I would want to be ready to capture some of this traffic.

Some facts about the Lycos 50 Aaron noted:

  • Generic terms like MP3, sex (and related), specific brand names (and other search engines or domain names) are not reported in the Lycos 50.

  • All misspellings are counted and grouped together.

  • If a hot story has a video or pictures associated with it the searches increase substantially. For example, the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl hit the top 50 when the existence of a video was released.

  • Dragonball replaced Pokemon in the top slot and most people have NO idea what it is.

Aaron did note that an increasing number of "adults" are using search, consequently increasing the number of "adult" phrases appearing on the Lycos 50 list, including the IRS, NFL, NCAA Basketball, and financial trading terms.

One of the very useful takeaways from Aaron's excellent talk was that by reading the Lycos 50 regularly you can track pop culture"s search words and incorporate them into your search engine marketing campaigns when appropriate. I would say that if you sell products aimed at young men you better have a Britney Spears version and a well optimized page that has lots of content about this popular young woman.

Aaron Schatz has a tremendously cool job and his humor is necessary and wonderful. But on the serious side, it seems that sophisticated searchers on the web are few and far between, and in order to capture their interest in your web site you have to be an extremely good search engine marketer. A good way to start is to study the Lycos 50 for clues of what people are actually searching for, and optimizing your pages acordingly.

The Lycos 50
http://50.lycos.com

You Can Observe a Lot by Watching the Lycos 50
SearchDay, May 8, 2002
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/02/sd0508-lycos50.html
Lycos "Sultan of Search" Aaron Schatz says you can virtually predict future trends and fads months in advance by watching what people search for.

Barbara Coll, aka the WebMama! <http://www.webmama.com>, has been involved with product and program marketing in Silicon Valley for 15 years. She lives in Menlo Park, CA with her husband and 8-year old son and regularly travels to speak at industry conferences like Search Engine Strategies.

AltaVista Expands Multimedia Index

AltaVista has expanded its index of image, audio and video files, as well as its collection of photos from breaking news stories.

"We have grown our multimedia index by 73 percent and have commenced integrating all news images directly into the index itself," said AltaVista spokesperson Krista Thomas. "The 800 + breaking news photos, maps, charts, etc. that we receive everyday are now immediately searchable."

AltaVista
http://www.altavista.com

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