Understanding Search Behavior and Search Engine Technology

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SearcherSearch can be a complex process depending on the Search Engine, search modifiers, and other factors. Each Search Engine has different parameters that affect the retrieval of information.

Similarly, searchers' behaviors are diverse and can only be perceived through the purpose of their searches, intention, time and interpretation of the queries.

As practitioners of Search Engine Optimization, we must understand how search is conducted and the technologies available to searchers. More importantly, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the searchers in order to understand their needs while matching those needs with the services provided by Search Engines to obtain the best results.

The Main Purpose of the Search

There are two elements to consider when identifying the main purpose of the search.

The first one is related to the location where the search is conducted. A searcher located in the USA may be looking for something different than someone in Spain even though he uses the same keyword or a phonetically-similar search term. For example, football in the USA is a different sport than fútbol (soccer in English) in Spain.

The second element to consider is the language in which the search is conducted. If the searcher is located in Spain and is searching for the English term football, then most likely the Search Engine will retrieve results in English or a combination of English and Spanish for that specific term. But if the searcher is searching for the Spanish term fútbol, then the results most likely will be entirely in Spanish.

Providing results in multiple languages while still being locally relevant is something Search Engines have been working on for a while. These efforts are led by Google with technologies like IP Delivery and Geo targeting through their Webmaster Tools. Moreover, Google Search Engine now provides products in the top 40 languages read by 98% of the world population and 256 local-language versions of various products.

Intent of the Search

Results are matched depending on the intent of the searcher. Broad or exact matches used in keywords are ways to determine the intent of a search.

A broad query such as 'International SEO' will have different intention than 'International SEO services in Denver'. Although the former can be done for informational or transactional purposes, the latter denotes a more specific need for a service.

From the Search Engine perspective, Search Engines like Google has developed technologies like spelling suggestion and an advanced synonyms system to help the searcher with his intention. By becoming more specific with his intention, the searcher will provide clearer indicators to the Search Engine of what he is looking for. In return, the Search Engine will be able to provide more accurate results and increase satisfaction.

Relevancy, Quality and Quantity of Information

Google Fellow Amit Singhal explained briefly in a recent post the technologies behind Google ranking. He mentioned that Google has become better at understanding and associating relevant content to a page. For instance, a page in an English country can be associated with a query in Spanish based on similarity and importance of its content.

In some situations, queries performed in a language like Spanish will retrieve results in a different language like English based on association. However, with more content created everyday and the improvement of the algorithms, the likeliness of searches conducted in a language appearing in a different language will decrease.

Quality of information is also becoming more important for Search Engines than ever in order to increase the relevancy of their results. Pages with strong quality signals will rank higher than their counterparts. On the other hand, pages with low quality signals affected by scraping and spamming are likely to deal with duplicate content issues and see their rankings dropped in the Search Engines results.

Furthermore, depending on how much information related to a specific search exists on the web, a page will be presented in a higher or lower position. However, when information is scarce or on a limited basis, Search Engines most likely will show those limited pages available.

Time of the Search

According to Amit, one of the technologies that Google has developed includes

distinctions between important and less important words in the page and the freshness of the information on the page.

Events that recently occurred, like the California earthquake on July, 29 2008, will be considered fresh news; hence, most likely to appear in the news vertical. Contrarily, a search for California Earthquake looking for historical data of prior earthquakes will provide different results in the organic listing.

There are also searches that simply transcend time. For instance, searchers looking for ‘principles of Christianity’ will find information written back in 2002 still relevant. And because of the age factor, this same page will be more relevant for the Search Engine than a recently launched page on the same subject.

Interpretation of the Search

Interpretation will vary depending on where the search is performed. What have meaning for one culture may have a different interpretation for another one even though they are located in the same geographical territory.

To continue with the example about football vs fútbol cited above, Spaniards and Latin Americans will find a common ground for the interpretation of fútbol (soccer), while USA citizens will be more inclined to interpret football as the national American Football sport. The interpretation that other European will give to fútbol will be more inline with Latin Americans.

And depending on where the search is conducted, Search Engines will provide predominant interpretations. For instance, searching for Football in Madrid under ‘the web’ option will list different results than conducting the same type of search in Denver, Colorado in the USA.

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