Never Underestimate The Power Of The Dark Side of Search

That title might have inspired thoughs of Jedi Knights, those with ADD might have instantly warped their thought trains to Pink Floyd and “The Dark Side of The Moon”.

Both might be correct in their connections.

Just like you couldn’t see the dark side of the force, and you can’t see the dark side of the moon, you can’t actually see all of your traffic that originates from search on the internet.

This is something that Tim O’Reily seems to be forgetting.

Search is only one way to find things. It’s the most easily monetizable, so it gets the lion’s share of the attention. But take a look at (and report on) what percentage of techcrunch’s traffic comes from search. For the O’Reilly Radar blog, it’s about 35%. Significant, sure, but hardly a sign of lack of competition. If Google absorbed both Yahoo! and Microsoft, the share of our visits coming from search would still be below 40%. (That tells you what a small share of our search traffic comes from the other guys today.) And that’s just the web traffic. Count in RSS (which is much bigger than web for most blogs, including ours) and the Search share of traffic goes down to a much smaller amount. So there’s not much worry about people not being able to find information.

Flour Water or Yeast

Based upon photo by Gene Hunt

Which is the most important ingredient in a loaf of bread?

Search is a vital ingredient in the online ecosystem. It might be possible to get by without it, before the Yahoo directory in the early 90s people did get by without any significant method of searching for information on the internet, but it wasn’t until “meta crawlers” were introduced, indexing individual pages that search really came of age.

Whilst it is easy at this stage of internet development to discount the value of search as only a small percentage of the whole, the source of traffic to your landing pages doesn’t necessarily mean that that was the starting point even for that single internet session, and when you factor in how a visitor entered preceding traffic funnels, you find multiple occasions where search may have “touched” a visitor before they visited your site.

How did a visitor to your site first become acquainted with Facebook, Digg, Stumbleupon, a subscriber to a blog which linked to you, subscribed to a mailing list, or even come to use Google.

Certainly a percentage of “original origin” comes from offline referrals, but how did the referring offline agent come into contact with the service they recommend?

This is very much like the six degrees of seperation

Six Degrees Of Seperation

If you take that diagram, and make 40% of the dots represent a search engine, the path from A to B will very rarely be devoid of direct search engine involvement, amd on a macro scale the chances are infinitely less.

It is great to look on social media sites as a better filter of information, but that isn’t effective unless you again implement some method of searching.

If you removed all forms of search from the internet, finding information when you need it would be highly inefficient.

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  1. says

    Andy good post. It’s easy to forget how many of the sites I’ve visited were the result of a search from long ago. Now they’re bookmarked and I return to many of them often. But the very reason they were bookmarked was because I initially found them through a search of some sort.

  2. says

    Very nice point. Indeed, social media sites can be seen as a filter of information, but we should implement some method of searching to begin with.

  3. says

    Well said Professor Beard. I think we all could survive if a lot of the eco-system disappears but we would have to do some pretty serious adaptation. Maybe grow search boxes on our palms or something.

  4. says

    I almost always use search engines to find what I’m looking for, but then the vast majority of my job is finding things in Google that other people at my company can’t find. Needless to say, its’ just too easy for me to use. However, I think that more and more people are using social networks for browsing the web (much like a bookstore) than just searching for things they need to know. Thanks for the interesting post!

  5. says

    I believe the search is a tool that naturally apearedto help us navigate the gigantic amount information we happened to deal with. Just like with large territories, when you need a jet to get you faster to a distant corner. You can walk the distance of thousand miles on foot, but usually don’t have that much time. Same is true of the search: you could browse numerous directories looking for the information, but using a search would be faster.

    We should also mind the relevance of the search to a query, or in a wider sense, quality of search. I think that’s where social networks win search engines.

  6. says

    I can’t image how internet looks like without search engine. Search engine always my first choice to look for information.
    Yahoo is the first search engine but seems losing out to Google in a fast pace. Yahoo should merge with Microsoft. We need 2 giants to compete and let us have the benefits instead of only one king in search engine. Anyone agrees?

  7. says

    interesting article, made me think back a bit and ponder, I remember when internet “surfing” was more a link following exercise, without using a search engine… you were expected to “surf” from one site to next based on the links you would find and the path you would follow and where you ended up could be completely different and yet entertaining in itself

    remember those awful “webrings” where a bunch of sites on a similar topic would link to each other and you would randomly jump from one site to the next

    wikipedia is still a little bit like that with all the interlinking amongst different pages

  8. says

    I always use Google to find what i’m looking for, but ironically, I’m getting most of my SE traffic from MSN search.

    I agree with other commenters about traffic from social sites and our own bookmarks, but when I’m looking for something with buying intentions, I always use Google on my first search unless I am already pretty sure where could I find what I’m looking for.

  9. says

    Search isn’t going anywhere, and in fact is getting better all the time. Google and the others’ algorithms are maturing with age, and the results are getting more relevant all the time.

    It pleases me that Google, Yahoo, and MSN are aware of the connection between the relevancy of their search results and the advertisements they run against those search results.

    This situation is like a check / balance: In order for their customers to trust and rely upon the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS), the engines HAVE to get better at what they do. In order for the advertisers to trust them, they have to serve relevant ads to surfer-searchers.

    Nice little circle.

    Despite my confidence in search, using the social networks to find relevant info has become quite habitual. I like that I can use my online friends as a filter and a funnel for useful info.

    For example, my best friend Deuce is a professional computer geek. Over time I’ve learned that he only sends me really good stuff. So I can use Deuce as a filter for information that he has access to and is in a better position to determine quality.

    Add to this the fact that he knows me personally and learns my preferences over time, and therefore becomes a more trustworthy source.

    If he doesn’t, I’ll begin to trust his information acquisition and filtering less and less over time.

    Your experience with social networks will vary, depending upon how you use those sites and how you leverage the friends you develop there. If you randomly add every joe schmoe who friends you, you really can’t trust their filtering.

    If, on the other hand, you only friend those you are interested in and trust, you’ll get a lot of value from their recommendations.

  10. says

    After reading this I suddenly realized that all I ever do on the internet is use search engines, read through the results and then use search engines again. It is like one big circle. Granted I have a ton of bookmarks, from searching, but I always end up searching at one point or another.
    It is hard to believe that in the beginning (1992 my first comp) I did not use the internet or equivalent.
    Now I can not imagine life without the internet or search engines.

  11. says

    The point of your argument is whether search engines are really required at all to find what we want on net ? Am I getting something wrong here ? Even though search engines occupy 40% of the traffic they surely are required as they are the starting point for many people.I am not wrong if I say many people have never heard of social media sites at all .

  12. says

    “Traffic Funnels” that’s the term that sums it all up. People need to remember that traveling on the net isn’t a liner activity and ultimately we end up visiting sites by following a link here and a link there. And yes, a large part of the travel primarily consists of search. Great post

  13. says

    Hi Andy,

    I use Google a lot every day. Sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesen’t – usually because of too much spam content. Your post makes it clear that search is just one way that a “searcher” can find your pages. There are many many other ways that a person can find your pages – the multitude of social media sites being one of them :-)

    A point I’d like to make is that I think the value of search is diminising and will become less important over time. Social media is a major reason for this and I actually think that the fact that social media exists means that many people who get poor search results now know that there are alternatives and hence this provide a feed back loop to social media – which will lead to faster growth!


  14. says

    Well, in this case I will agree with your thought here.

    Instead of the search engines, the piece of words from a person to another is also a very powerful tool as well, the best thing about this method is it totally free of any charges!

  15. says

    Search engine help to find information but the search reasult not always useful.
    I have some web site which I regular visit mainly from my book mark. Some site I visit because I read an article off line, mentioned the address which I want to read further.

  16. says

    Search was made to help people find things effectively in a more timely manner… it wasn’t made to increase the money webmasters make… lol , but if we can use it for good and to our advantage at the same time then i guess that is fair.

  17. says

    I always use Google to find what i'm looking for, but ironically, I'm getting most of my SE traffic from MSN search.

    I agree with other commenters about traffic from social sites and our own bookmarks, but when I'm looking for something with buying intentions, I always use Google on my first search unless I am already pretty sure where could I find what I'm looking for.

  18. says

    I always use Google to find what i'm looking for, but ironically, I'm getting most of my SE traffic from MSN search.

    I agree with other commenters about traffic from social sites and our own bookmarks, but when I'm looking for something with buying intentions, I always use Google on my first search unless I am already pretty sure where could I find what I'm looking for.