The conflicting point between desire and search lies in the interpretation of commands. Searchers are getting better at the act of searching. Another way to view more efficient search is by saying that users are learning to accommodate the needs of a search engine.
Search sites aren’t learning to accommodate the users as much as users are learning to accommodate the search. Not for a lack of trying, search sites have masterfully found content to support search queries; content just hasn’t been able to map to human desire.
There are positive steps forward; universal search is trying to help identify or map desire by listing resource multiplicity. Yellow pages directories and search engines are hopelessly intertwined as directories feed search queries and search queries feed directories.
Confused yet? Don’t be, here’s a little clarity.
Imagine the irony of an electronics buyer who is looking for a new flat screen television. Category-specific usage data indicate that research for a purchase occurs online, while the purchase occurs offline.
In other words, the user uses a search engine to find the product, then a yellow pages directory to find the store. Define need. How about gaining most of your traffic from your biggest competitor? Some experts believe yellow pages directories receive 90 percent of their traffic from search engines.
The 90 percent data point is highly speculative and a very closely-guarded data point, but here’s some data that isn’t. In April 2007, Hitwise reported that 50 percent of the upstream traffic for Local.com, Yahoo Local, and Google Local came from search sites.
So either half or most of the traffic local-in-nature originates with a search site query. Then what happens?
When people think online yellow pages and a place to buy something, they think yellow pages directories like YellowPages.com or SuperPages.com. When people want a Web site, and they are thinking search for information about a purchase, they go to a search engine like Google or Yahoo.
However, yellow pages searches work a bit differently from search engine queries. While search sites associate keywords with Web sites, yellow pages attach keywords to directories containing business names.
The problem is stemming issues like “pizza” vs. “pizzas” have long presented a challenge for directories and search engines alike. A user has no idea whether the pizza place found in results is an Italian restaurant or a walk-in/delivery place. Another good example lies in popular words or phrases that aren’t mapped to categories.
“Dim Sum” means Chinese food to millions of users but doesn’t mean anything to a traditional yellow pages search. Worse, not every Chinese restaurant serves “Dim Sum.” When a search isn’t mapped, the user often receives “null” results that (if anything) suggest other categories.
Shopping for the Tail
Enter YellowBot with the tagline, “search + friends = your city.” Each search is surrounded by tag clouds, a very popular means of integrating the user-generated content into search activity. The searchers control the associated tags and the category structure or “taxonomy.”
“The strict taxonomy and categorization prevents millions of users from finding what they want,” says Erron Silverstein, chief executive officer of YellowBot. “The site offers a vote and a search taxonomy. In the four months since launch, we have gone from zero percent repeat users to 14 percent.”
Silverstein also indicated that nearly 2 percent of users are actively providing content enhancements, a figure consistent with numbers reported by other social media commerce-driven sites. YellowBot is clearly on to something. Imagine the clarity of knowing which restaurants have characteristics that are important to you.
Social Functions = $$$
When optimizing pages, we spend a great deal of time concerned about the search engines. Only recently have more global concerns, like universal search and local traffic spikes from search sites to their newly-built local pages, raised eyebrows.
Social media components, along with public relations considerations, are becoming more mainstream search tactics. Yet, as venture-capital dollars flow freely and alternative search engines try to map the human brain, there’s something you should know. As AltSearchEngines.com editor Charles Knight noted, all 100 of the (alternative) search engines he tracks comprise only 5 percent of all search traffic.
Alternative search and new search site traffic may be small today, but it is growing. In the age of optimizing the long tail, it is certainly worth watching.
In the mean time (if you need me), I’ll be working on creating a YellowBot list of “dog friendly” restaurants in lower Manhattan – but I’m sure there are only a couple million people like me out there – so who really cares? You should.
Kevin Ryan is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on Search Engine Watch.