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Ranking, Sorting & Filtering The Growing World Wide Web

13 November 2009 One Comment

Analyzing The Web’s Current State

The topic of organizing the web, more specifically, the content of the web is very interesting in my opinion. The main crossroads of the web, Google, built their revolutionary search algorithm several years ago and has dominated the web and made billions for the one who controls it. Interestingly, while Google constantly tweaks the algorithm and improves it, the web is still a very different place when compared to its state when Google started. One of the biggest changes, web 2.0 fueled blogging, has created exponential growth in content and way more “stuff” for Google to filter.

As the web fills up with crap from millions of individual bloggers and other content producing entities, the challenge of ranking, sorting and filtering through all this data is challenging. I continue to believe that while Google will continue to provide the best mainstream search, there are other opportunities for different methods of finding information on the web.

This conversation, for me, naturally turns towards blogging. Or more simply put, individual content producers. Currently, search is very effective at searching specific topics. For example, I want to find information on the Hyundai Genesis 2009. Searching for that keyword, I get a number of quality results ranging from Hyundai’s official site to a blogger’s review of the car.

The discussion becomes more interesting when you start to consider searching for what I call trusted sources. What if you are considering becoming a gun owner. You have no idea what gun to buy, what guns are legal, how to buy a gun, etc. Basically, you want to find a trust source on a wide range of topics within the larger topic of fire arms. The ideal recommendation would be a top blogger or demonstrated expert in the field of fire arms.

Search is currently focused on keywords. If I searched for “buy a gun”, I will get a range of results, most of them will not be close to my ideal result as identified above. Some results will be crap sites of people luring search traffic by manipulating search results with “optimization” techniques. Unfortunately, Google not only allows but encourages these crap sites because they are typically filled with Google Adsense ads. These sites although hardly any use to the end user still make Google money. Again, I’m looking for a trusted source for many different pieces of quality content. Most of the trusted sources that I have are sites that I stumbled upon over time and continued to visit. It was a more natural process by chance versus searching for such a trusted resource.

For example, let’s say a college student was looking for a trusted resource for financial advice that is pertinent to him. 20smoney.com would be a great resource for such an individual. However, the only way’s he would find it is if he searched for “20s money” or some other keywords that some of my articles rank high for (check out “unemployed college graduates” and “government take over 401k”). He’s not likely to search for those keywords; therefore, he’s unlikely to find my site. Thus, the limitations of search. Great for specific, isolated terms; not great for finding more broad based trusted resources.

If you think about an expert in a field who writes a blog about his area of expertise, you can see how his site can easily be hidden from the individuals searching for such a trusted resource.  By spending his time and energy on his field of expertise, he could potentially be ignoring the area of search engine optimization (SEO).  Contrast this with someone who is an expert on SEO and hardly an expert on the same field.  The SEO expert is more likely to be more visible to search traffic and thus more found, even though the former resource would have been the better recommendation to a web surfer.  Most people will say that quality content will always eventually lead to a higher ranking because of the back links it will generate over time, but this doesn’t always develop perfectly.

Some Potential Future Developments

One might consider that search algorithms start to put more emphasis on “trust” indicators.  The main one that I can see is subscriber count.  The number of subscribers typically indicates how trusted you are with readers.  Google, through its acquisition of Feedburner, has access to these counts for most blogs.

Other indicators could be the traffic stats such as average time somebody spends on the site.  Or, how many pages per visit a visitor will view.

Google’s rankings are primarily driven by back links – the number of quality links a site has pointing to it.  This won’t change, but will most definitely be tweaked in some way.

I’m very curious to see if Google eventually tries to filter out the “crap sites” that are so pervasive around the web where people attempt to get high ranked for a specific term and monetize that search traffic.  As I mentioned above, Google still is profiting from these sites, so at this point, I don’t see a change happening.

What This All Means

So, why analyze the web and how it works?  As a web entrepreneur or someone who is into online business, it’s important to understand how to position websites for more traffic and ultimately, more profit.  It’s important to acknowledge the limitations of the current system and monitor the changes to the way people find information.

By positioning a website or blog early in a changing environment, you can position a site as an information leader in a certain field.  This would undoubtedly result in higher profitability.

I do think there are some opportunities in developing a website that helps people find the trusted resources in a fashion similar to what is described above.  The model in my mind would be something like a directory (see dir.yahoo.com, botw.org, etc.), but more based on expert recommendations versus a centralized “approval process”.  Allow experts in physics to recommend the best online resources in physics, allow a trusted financial expert to recommend the best financial blogs on the web, etc.  Expert recommendations fuel the ranking algorithm.  The goal is to find trusted resources or expert bloggers versus a single piece of content on a specific keyword.  If there is something similar to what I’m describing, please leave a comment below.  Also, if someone is a developer looking to partner with me on building a similar site, also let me know (I don’t have time to develop it by myself).

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