Semantic pants


I should add here, that this is based on a description a non-techie friend gave me,  on how google searching worked.

The semantic web. Take the word pants.

User 1: Has a dog and looks up symptoms (possible search string – “dog pants too much”)
User 2: Buys a lot of pants (possible search string – “bargain pants sale”)
User 3: Enjoys photos of soiled pants – hey, it takes all sorts to make a world (possible search string – “dirty mens pants
User 4: From generation who uses word pants to describe something that’s not very good. (possible search string – “what political party is the most pants“)
User 5: Combination of users 1-4

Using the search string to identify a user from the list, “soiled pants” could only User 3; but there is also User 6, who has diarrhoea. It won’t make them feel any better if their search returns photos of pants that have seen a lot of action and not much washing. Now of course in some countries, “pants” actually means “trousers”, so you have to account for different meanings depending on location. Which the search engine can usually pick up on. They get that right most of the time. So now we have User 7 – an American who likes to buy his pants online.  Yes, at least a search engine can assume user is after male pants.  So take the search string “bargain pants” from a UK location.  The search engine picks up of “bargain” is is reliably associated with shopping related search string .  Could be a man or woman buying for a man.  Or maybe a woman feels more comfortable in pants, or turned on by wearing mens pants.  You can see how complex it can get very quickly.  It’s people’s little perversions and quirks that will really throw search engines off the track.  If only us annoying users would use the word “Y-Fronts” instead of “pants“, it would make search engines lives a little easier.  But you can see how implementing a semantic approach to web searching can quickly get complex.

From this rudimentary approach to a semantic web, search engines can start building up profiles. Not logged in? No problem – they record your IP and surfing history anyway. What, you think they need permission? User 5 is why it still doesn’t work very well yet. No-one is so simple and straight-forward enough to pigeon-hole so easily. So it’s on it’s way, and as long as search engines like Google can stop falling over themselves telling us what we want, rather than trying to work it out, we will get there. In the meantime be careful out there, or you may end up with a profile you can’t shake off 😉

Interesting note – when I search “pants” on Google UK, the images are 99% trousers. #fail

Usability & SEO

Ultimately, usability is key to ensuring a good ranking. Concentrate on delivering good usability, employ some basic SEO tactics (such as placing keywords in the page title, headings and links) and the rest will follow naturally. Usability and SEO go hand in hand.

Semantic web will mean that users define how searching operates. As the article points out, search engines have always tried to pre-empt what the user wants, and have long realised the importance of user opinions. So how user opinions be translated into a search algorithm. There has to be some voluntary proactiveness from the user, and that is what has happened. The increase in websites that use and promote inter-site interraction, and offered easier ways for the user to add and contribute, means the users demands and the search engine algorithms are becoming more synchronized. Search engines pick up on quality not as a standards enforcer, but as an efective means to pull out relevant sites in search results.

  • The number of inbound links a site has plays a major part in its search engine ranking. Every link to your site essentially represents a vote for your website – the more votes (especially from quality sites) the higher in the rankings your site will appear.
  • All other things being equal, search engines rank sites with good spelling and grammar higher than those without. This holds true in the real world too – who wouldn’t prefer a well written site!?
  • Google has its free analytics package, which allows them to take an inside peek to see which sites have the most conversions. It could figure that sites with more conversions are effectively votes for that site by users and should be ranked higher.
  • Bookmarking sites (e.g. Digg) are all about user powered content. The community votes for the best sites, with the best ones being promoted to the front page.

Design and code to standards, involving the user, being transparent about your intentions, and actively expanding your social and professional network are all basic methods of establishing a presence on the web.