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Managing Search Engines

A couple of interesting posts today about search engines. (HT: Messiah College librarian Beth Transue) The first from the back end/business side, trying to optimize their placement in search results. The second discusses how Google’s search engine essentially filters the results we see, and so reinforces our current beliefs, rather than exposing us to a wide variety of unfiltered results.

Let’s start with the business side. Ken Mueller offers the following introduction:

The other day I was sitting in a client’s office for a meeting when they got a phone call. The person who answered listened, then looked at her boss (my client) and said:

“Do we want to be on the front page of Google and Bing?”

Without missing a beat, my client replied:

“No.”

Now, it’s not that my client doesn’t want to be on the “front page of Google”. It’s that she understands that this is basically, at worst, a scam, and at best, empty promises.

You may have even gotten one of these calls. They often ask you if you want to be on the “first page” or “front page” of Google, and in some cases I’ve heard them say,

“There’s an opening on the first page of Google, are you interested?”

as if slots open up and it’s there job to help fit you in.

If you get these calls, I hope you’ll run the other way. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Mueller then offers seven suggestions and then some final words. See the whole thing here, especially if you are working in a position where trying to optimize search engine results is of great importance to you or your employer.

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Results for Articles Returned from a Common Google News Search by Different Users

In the other article, by Mary Ellen Bates at Librarian of Fortune, offers a quick take on the reports of the effects that Google searches have upon the news and sites that are returned when you search. Bates assumed that the effect was real on general searches, but was skeptical that the effect was as pronounced with searches using Google News. She did her own (admittedly) informal study, and was surprised by the results. Here is a taste:

What I found surprised me; there was more variation among search results than I had expected. Knowing that a graphic is worth 1000 bytes (or something like that), here are a few ways of telling the story.

Caveat: I was a philosophy major in college and never had to take a stats course, so this analysis was done without the benefit of any relevant skills. I’m happy to go through the details of my analysis with you if you’re interested, or if you would like to share your thoughts on other ways to display this information.

And then she concludes:

Bottom line: Holy moley, Google does filter the news. You really need to go beyond the first few search results if you want to get a relatively well-rounded view of the news.

I’ve offered one of her graphs above, but there are several in her post. She explains each of her graphs, and what she thinks they mean. Bates talks more about her methodology after the body of her post, and it leaves much to be desired statistically. I would like to see a more appropriately designed study, including information on demographics of those included in the study in order to see how that might have affected the search results seen. Still, the results, basic as they are, are likely indicative of  a real “filtering” of results, and is troubling if your goal is unfiltered news, or think our country would benefit from hearing and understanding those we don’t agree with.

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