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Thus Spake Google: How Wagging the Dog is Working for the Rest of Us

People everywhere are 'wagging the dog' by what they search for.

Google has become one of the most successful companies in history, in part due to its ability to tell us who we are.  Asking metaphorically, Is Google a prophet? Can it predict the future?  The answer is no.  But it does hold a mirror to society.  Google’s great success in the world of search is that it gives us the ability to “know ourselves,” collectively, better than ever before.  What are some of the things that make Google so successful as a provider of information?

Find Out What They Want

During his lifetime Zig Ziglar said many times, “Find out what people want and help them get it,” and that’s exactly what Google does with its search services. It employs crowdsourcing to an almost dizzying extent to find out what people want. Crowdsourcing is also the key to its great success with other products and services but SEARCH is the context for this article.

Google assumes — correctly most of the time — that if it knows the answers to the following questions, then its search engine can accurately find and rank the best available answers to our queries:

  • What would we like to know? This is the specific set of words we type or paste into a search input form.
  • Where in the world are we from? Where have we lived and worked?
  • Where are we now? What is our current location?
  • What are our interests? Job function?
  • Age, ethnicity, sex?
  • What’s trending right now? …in the crowds we’re a part of each day? …in the cities where we work and live? …in our professions?
  • What has our specific behavior been in the past with regard to searching and search results?

These are some of the same questions asked in our article on trends in technology and support the truth that what people want to know has a lot to do with who they are.

Not Necessarily the Best Possible Answers…

Search engines provide us with the best available answers based on their search algorithms but are not yet capable of giving us the best possible answers to all of our questions. After all, the “known universe” of information for search engines begins and ends with internet-accessible data.

For example… If the exact answer to one your questions lies in a notebook sitting twenty feet away from you — perhaps in a colleague’s filing cabinet, but the information in that notebook hasn’t yet been uploaded or otherwise scanned by anyone (or any thing) connected to the internet, then you will remain “twenty feet away” from the exact answer until something changes. If you don’t happen to know that you’re twenty feet away from the answer, then for all intents and purposes you are infinitely far away from the exact answer.

A search engine can only provide information that it knows about.

…But Certainly the Most Likely Answers

Humans are deceivingly complex.  Our brains are capable of making thousands of decisions in an instant and do so primarily without our even knowing it.  We are simply unaware of all the variables that go into making even very simple decisions.  For much more on this topic, read How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker and/or consider using game theory to help understand human decision-making behavior.

But without becoming wizards at interpreting human thoughts and desires, this simple statement by Tim Berners-Lee provides a clue as to how Google can fairly closely determine what we want as we search for anything:

“You affect the world by what you browse”

… and this is absolutely true.  Results and rankings via Google Trends are based on what people around the world are searching for.  And Google gets to know each of us, in part, in the same way.

Who Cares About This Stuff?

We do.  The people doing the searching want to find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible.  The companies who want to be found, likewise, want to be found for all the right reasons.

Search Evolution

As search engines and Web content producers march toward delivering a truly semantic Web — a Web in which language-rich questions are coupled with peoples’ perceptions to help produce precise search results — we can do ourselves a favor by establishing, or continuing to use, these three best practices:

  • Develop and publish blog articles that contain greater depth about the subject(s) wherein you have the greatest expertise and continue to follow AlignTech’s How To Write Great Blog Posts best practices.
  • Develop a circle of friends and acquaintances who, collectively, mirror your target market in terms of generation, gender, buying preferences, etc., and who will provide you with honest feedback about your articles.
  • Begin to incorporate knowledge graphs in your posts to help Google understand the contexts in which your article are most valid

These were perhaps the three most important elements of Google’s Hummingbird search engine algorithm rewrite of 2013. We’ll keep you posted on additional changes to Google Search and to search engine optimization / internet marketing best practices as they occur.

About Jeff Hayes

Jeff is an agile consultant, coach and trainer with a career spanning 30 years. He specializes in co-creating learning environments to help humans learn how to learn, become more curious and productive, and to build resilience.

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