Take A Walk and Learn to Crawl

Imagine you’re in Austin, TX for the first time. You’ve never been there before and you really want to understand what the area is like. You could read some travel guides, but the most authentic way to get a feel for the environment would be to simply walk around and see what you find.

Article_081915_HumanSearchEngine-300x200In this scenario, you walk past one of Austin’s many BBQ restaurants. This particular one, let’s call it Orley’s, for example, has a long line outside. The people are talking about how great the food is, how excited they are and even one person can be overheard explaining how the food is worth the wait. As you walk by some tables, you can see the food and notice that it looks and smells fantastic. All in all, Orley’s BBQ has made quite an impression on you.

Turning the corner, you pass another restaurant. The sign has fallen into disrepair. All you can read is “ug’s BBQ” but clearly there was another letter there at one point. Bug’s, Tug’s, Mug’s – it’s anybody’s guess. In addition, there aren’t any people queued up outside of this restaurant and it certainly isn’t full. Looking through the windows shows food that looks much worse than Orley’s.

At this point, it’s safe to say that *ug’s has made an impression all it’s own.

So imagine you’re asked to make a recommendation based on this information. Which restaurant are you going to be more confident in? That’s the task a modern search engine faces.

While we as humans walk through the real world, search engines crawl through the digital ones. They use web spiders that move from link to link to link, taking in all the information they can to build an impression of the “world” they inhabit. But for all their processing power and limitless storage capacity, search engines still fall behind humans in a key area: senses.

Despite strides being made each year to overcome this limitation, search engines prefer text. Meanwhile, humans can use all of our senses to help divine what the world around us contains. We might hear someone speak of “Tug’s BBQ” and finally fill in that missing letter we couldn’t read before. Or in the case of Orley’s, perhaps their best dessert is served on a covered silver platter. What our eyes can’t tell us, our nose can help discover.

Looking for an online example? Look no further than multimedia files. In order to serve up the perfect cat video just when we need it most, search engines rely on metadata, titles, descriptive text and even comments to see which movies are the cutest of the cute.

What does this have to do with your law firm? Everything.

In order to get found by search engines and delivered to your future clients, search engines need to crawl your site, read your content, listen to your referrals and process a constant stream of information to determine who you are and which web searches you match. Your job, if you’re one of the firms that “gets it” is to do everything you can to help the search engine overcome the distractions and limitations that put you behind your competition.

That’s what SEO is all about, and that’s why you need to think like a web crawler.

Wilson, J. (2015) Lecture: The Human Search Engine
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