Search Trends: Why Social Optimization Is The Next Evolutionary Step

While search behavior is changing, the proliferation of Web 2.0 platforms and applications such as social networking, RSS and blogging are impacting search, making it even more complex. The information universe is becoming too vast and complex to catalog by keywords alone.

Search engines developed out of a need for people to find information easily. In the early days of the Internet, webmasters would go to one of several directories, or all of them, and submit their websites to be included in a certain category. Then Google came along with this fancy spider and put a lot of emphasis on back links. No longer were keywords and categories the most important parts of your search for information.

Links became important primarily due to a philosophy that says if a website links to another website it’s because the first website sees value in the second. That value, a “professional recommendation” if you will, led to webmasters seeking links from each other in order to boost their performance in the search engines. Suddenly, it was no longer about keywords but about links AND keywords. Today, this is where we stand. Links and keywords are the the goalposts on the internet’s football field.

Social search and vertical search seek to change that. Rather than rely on some 100,000 back links as “proof” of value, a niche search phenomena is beginning to rely on user recommendations called tags. Tags are similar to keywords, but different in that the webmaster doesn’t get to choose the tag. Users and third-parties do.

In other words, if I am interested in democratic politics and I find an article on the abuse of monarchies, I may tag it according to my interest in democracy as a way to say “this article is beneficial to the topic of democracy” even though the word democracy may not appear in that article anywhere. I may be the only person who find that article valuable according to my preference, however, others interested in the same topic may agree. When they do, a growing consensus of value is realized and the article tagged by the most people as achieving the highest value for that tag will rise in the search engine’s ranking.

This new emergence in search is slowly giving rise to a new form of optimization called social optimization. The idea is to make your article, blog, web page, etc. valuable according to ideas or concepts rather than specific keywords. Anyone familiar with those concepts can vote that article blog valuable or not valuable according to whether or not it offers anything of value to the concept – even if it doesn’t use specific keywords related to that concept. This way, the community, or a community, can decide by consensus or “majority” vote whether or not a particular piece of content is worth the ranking it receives.

Social optimization is still new. There is plenty of room to grow, to evolve. And I believe it will. Meanwhile, it looks like we are stuck with keywords and back links.

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