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The Optimized Future

If I were to walk up to a person on the street and ask them what’s ‘Google’, they would undoubtedly look at me as if I had just asked them what is a toaster? And yet we are taking many such things for granted.

In the modern age of interconnectedness the idea of information being at our fingertips is both assumed and natural. We all know that Google is a search engine but do we really know the implications of the service it offers?

When you search for a new place to eat, a holiday destination or a product for home or work, how many of us click through the pages and look at the 305th result? The answer would undoubtedly be no one or a very small percentage. Google is the king of searching, and ‘ranking’ is its kingdom.

Ranking is everything, it can decide whether I go out for some Thai or decide to try the new Italian restaurant down the road. It can decide whether I buy a new Samsung television, or an LG. It determines patterns of consumption, and this above all else should be recognized. The more visible a product or a source of information, the more likely someone will consume it. In terms of big business this can make the difference between success and failure. There is a whole field of making ourselves and our products more visible to the world, it is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is the method whereby an internet site can become more visible, linked and ranked to create greater online exposure. This optimizing is often misused in the spamming world; I know how many times I have searched for some form of product only to find myself at some inappropriate site promising a companion (yes, you know what I mean) or free cars.

Optimizing and spamming are too different things but they do share some similarities; they want to make information more accessible. The difference is one provides real reliable links, the other just booby traps and irreverent links.

My friend Edward pointed out an interesting article in the NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13search.html by David Segal, which outlined the difference between ethical and unethical optimizing. The article “Search Optimization and Its Dirty Little Secrets” investigates the case of J.C. Penny, and how this big business used unethical methods to increase search ranking in Google. J.C. Penny was able to increase their ranking to no.1 in google, even on unrelated items or products. This saw a massive jump in their business, and unfortunately for them, punishment by Google when they were caught.

What is the moral of this story? That optimization works, and that it should be incorporated into any big businesses marketing strategy, but at the same time it should also be done in an ethical manner.

PS: Edward, thank you sharing that article with me. Let’s opt for the ‘white hat’ method of doing seo for businesses!

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