(This is originally a chapter from the book Efficient information searching on the web.)
Are the search services media companies or technique companies?
Links as commodities
Links constitute a big commodity and can be said to be of three different types:
- Link from a search engine index (to a search engine which lacks its own index, e.g., Altavista)
- Sponsored link from a special index (which is mixed into a hit list in a search service)
- Commercial link (which is presented next to the hit list in a search service or on a common Web site)
All links that the target Web site has paid for in any way are paid links. The opposite to the paid links in the search engines are called organic links and are those links that the search engine’s spider collects.
The Bruce Clay Search Engine Chart (www.bruceclay.com/searchenginerelationshipchart.htm) is a service provided by the consultancy firm Bruce Clay. It’s a chart where you can see what the relationships of the search engines look like. If you click on a square, a fact sheet about the search service will pop up. On the chart the red arrows denote primary search results, i.e., organic hits. Paid links are marked with yellow arrows and are delivered from the dominating actors Google and Yahoo! to the other search services.
In 2004 it was estimated that the eight largest search services handled over 600 million searches daily. Google’s part was about 250 million/day. Th e number of searches in the search services increases steadily each year. In August 2007 the number of searches in the world was estimated to 61 billion/month (2 billion/day). Of the 61 billion searches Google is estimated to handle 60 per cent (1).In August 2009 13.9 billion searches were conducted in the US, 64.6 percent of them in Google (2).And the users from US are only 16.2 percent of the total amount of users world wide (over 1 billion) (3).
What line of business are the search engines in?
Searchers believe that the search engines are in the business of searching. Searchers rely on free, commercial search services to quickly and easily fi nd the relevant information they want, irrespective of search query, complexity and language.
As a matter of fact, the commercial search engines are in the business of advertising. They receive their largest share of the income from delivering context-dependent ads. Bought hits, sponsored links, etc., are directed advertising.
An inquiry in 2001 showed that half of the hits in the meta search services were bought hits. Watch out!
The three big ones of the search engines
The operation of the search engines is built on three things:
- Traffic – more searchers mean more people who will follow the commercial links.
- Relevance – give meaningful answers to the searches to keep the searchers happy and make them return.
- Monetarism – convert the traffic to revenues through, for example, commercial links and banners.
Today the search engines need to be good at all three things mentioned above: creating traffic to the search engine, delivering good answers to the searches and making use of the traffic created to the search engine to earn money. As a searcher you should make sure that you use the search engines more than they use you.
Sponsored links, bought hits and advertising
During the last years the main emphasis has changed from pure advertising (banners and pop-up commercials) to sponsored links and bought hits.
Three types of bought hits
- Bought placing – higher up or at the side of the hit list
- Bought inclusion – somewhere among the hits
- Bought indexing – guaranteed placing in the search engine’s index (or directory)
How bought hits are presented in practice
Google keeps the sponsored links outside of the hit list in a rather clear way. The sponsored links are, principally, shown to the right of the hit list. Sometimes sponsored links are also shown above the hits list but in that case they have a background colour.
Fig. Sponsored links in Google in a search on ”web server”.
Google earlier used numbering of the hits in the hit list. But the numbering is removed and with that the diff erence between (organic) hits and sponsored links is a bit smaller.
Metacrawler (www.metacrawler.com), which is a meta search service, mixes in the sponsored links into the hit list. The sponsored links are marked with ”sponsored by” before the URL and aft er the address you get information about where the sponsored link comes from.
Fig. Sponsored links in Metacrawler in a search on “cell phone”.
Manipulation of search engines
An entire line of business works with marketing in search services. The marketing is often connected to the optimization of Web sites or pure Web design. Two abbreviations that show up are SEM and SEO . SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing and SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. The concepts are good to know if you want to learn more about search services. It’s the people in the business of search engine optimizaiton who study the search engines in depth, which means that you sooner or later will come across SEO texts about search engines. The reason why you find the knowledge about search engines in the SEO business is that this is where there’s money to make, in contrast to pure information searching where the need of consultants is small.
Search Engine Marketing as a concept includes all marketing that takes place via search services on the Net, both search engine advertising with sponsored links and search engine positioning.
Sponsored links or bought search words are those links that most oft en are shown at the side of the hit list at a search. Sometimes they are shown before the hits and sometimes they are mixed in among the organic hits. The advertiser pays the search service for each visitor who clicks on the link and the price of the link is often determined through bidding (the highest bid on top).
Search engine positioning or search engine optimization are diff erent ways to improve, or optimize, a Web site so that it will get as high up as possible in the hit lists of the search engines. Th e optimization improves, e.g., the titles of the pages, the occurrence of search words on the pages, meta tags and the Web addresses. Sometimes external pages are used (so-called satellite sites or link farms) as links to the Web site, but this is considered as spamming by the search engines.
Different types of ads on the Web
The banner is the classic ad on the Net. A clickable image which leads on to the
advertiser. In course of time they have become increasingly larger in format. Banners constitute the original form of Net advertising.
Search engine advertising refers to purchases of search words or phrases and is presented as a sponsored link in the search engines.
Contextual advertising are ads which as far as contents go stick to that which the visitor is reading about on the Web site. If the editorial material is about cars, then car ads will come up. The ad-publishing tool will look for keywords in the read text and publish dynamically relevant ads.
Behavioral advertising is based on an advertising application which stores the user’s surfing. The program then presents suitable ads. The technique thus builds on the storing of personal information.
Questionable SEO solutions
Information searchers sometimes come up against questionable SEO solutions. Optimization companies are at times criticized in the press for having used for example link farms.
A link collection on a Web page which only exists to give many incoming links to the target links is called a link farm. Th e links in the link farm are thought to give higher ranking in the search engines as most search engines work with link analysis. Site maps can be used as link farms.
To show one Web page to the search engines and another to the visitors in order to get a high ranking in the search engines is called cloaking. You hide the real page to the search engine and instead show a page with many keywords.
An entrance page to a Web site which has been created for the sole purpose of ranking high in the search engines is called a door page. The door page is often not seen but the visitor is directly sent on to the real first page. The page is optimized for search engines and doesn’t contain any information for the visitor.
Misspelt Web addresses
If you enter an incorrect URL you increasingly more oft en come to a page which is using the page that you intended to visit. Sometimes the page is similar to that which you were looking for with the purpose of detaining less observant users and making them click on the links. At times it’s only a simple Web page with links.
(1) ComScore Press Release, October 10, 2007: http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_releases/2007/10/Worldwide_Searches_Reach_61_Billion
(2) ComScore Press Release, September 22, 2009: http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_releases/2009/9/comScore_Releases_August_2009_U.S._Search_Engine_Rankings
(3) ComScore Press Release, January 23, 2009: http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_releases/2009/1/Global_Internet_Audience_1_Billion