Engine Manipulation, Verticals, and the Library

Adam Penenberg offers a profile of WebGuerrilla’s Greg Boser in the Wired article: Search Rank Easy to Manipulate. While I’m sure many of you will plenty to say about the article, allow me to share a few random thoughts that came to mind from my non-SEO, professional researcher (librarian) perspective.

+ This article reinforces my belief (one that I’ve had for many years) that verticals (what I called specialized search tools) are going to be grow in importance and use by researchers. I’m not saying that general purpose and large web databases aren’t important, THEY ARE, but from a searcher perspective bigger doesn’t always mean better. I also believe that along with verticals, tools to federate results and help with database selection will also be key.

+ Penenberg’s article focuses only on manipulating Google results. When it comes to PageRank/link analysis, most other large web engines use link analysis and many other criteria in one form or another to determine relevance but manipulation is not just an issue at Google.

+ Some type of human intervention might still be needed in compiling, maintaining, and editing large web databases. Google and other large web engines are often compared to libraries. In my opinion, this is an inaccurate comparison. Sure, they both provide access to information but all libraries have selection policies about what they do and don’t provide access to. In other words, humans (not only librarians) make decisions based on a variety of criteria including currency and accuracy of the info and reputation of the author and publisher. Collection development is an essential part of librarianship. Many of the great libraries are also focused on one or more topics, disciplines, or types of information. Yes, library collections can be verticals too!

+ The need for better user training. This might not be something for everyone but certain groups of web searchers (educators, students, etc) could benefit from just a small amount of training to learn the many pros and cons of large web engines, what verticals/specialized tools can offer, and when using any search tool (Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, or various specialized databases) how to take full advantage of the technology. A little training can go a long way to help the searcher create more precise and focused result sets.

More about these topics in future posts.

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