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Humans do not control search engines links

May 30, 2012 - Art Smith
“Why does a link for a fiery accident on I-77 from 2011 pop up when I do a simple Yahoo search for ‘The Marietta Times?’ ” a reader asked me Tuesday. That’s a good question, and it’s not one to which I could provide an easy answer.

The links that appear in search engines are generated not by people, but by complex computer programs that analyzes hundreds of pieces of information on each story to decide where is should appear when someone conducts a query.

A lot goes into making the result the best it can be. The amount of traffic to the site, the number of links to a site, or to a particular page on a site, how long people stay on a page, how often it is updated; how closely the content matches what the person was searching for and literally scores of other metrics all have a bearing on how a page will show up when you search for it. Books have been written and jobs have been created just to try to optimize sites for search engines.

Yahoo and other search engines group some returns together. The reader who searched for The Marietta Times, for instance, got links to the main sections of the site in addition to the story about the wreck. She also got another mysterious link to a single obit. Of the eight links auto packaged under a link to the home page, six are as they should be.

Groups that run sites, like newspapers, can do some things to help a search engine find a page. Readers can see some efforts, such as the page title you see at the top of this page. Users of a site cannot easily view others, such as keywords and descriptions. So many sites abused the use of keywords and descriptions that most search engines are believed to pay little attention to them any more.

The actual content is, of course, the most important thing search engines examine. Without search engines you would have to know where to look for information, and with millions of websites it would be nearly impossible to find what you were seeking. Search engine traffic is very important to all sites, accounting for a third to a half of all traffic to many sites.

The link to a fiery crash story, though, remains a mystery to me. The article ran more a year ago, on April 19, 2011. It still gets about 20 people a day reading it, which is not enough to push to the top of a search engine results page. It had 23 comments from readers, which again, is not unusual. There is nothing in the story to set it apart from the thousands of other stories on the site when a person was simply searching the name of the newspaper. As a test I also did a search on Yahoo for “Parkersburg News and Sentinel,” that query also produced a strange return. This one for a story from January titled “Bullets Hit car, house.”

Google displays the links to the top sections on both sites exactly as they should be without the mystery links. Google “owns” the search business because its results are better. This is a good example of how.

“Why does a link for a fiery accident on I-77 from 2011 pop up when I do a simple Yahoo search for ‘The Marietta Times?’ ” My answer to the caller was simple. “I don’t know.”

Postscript: A day after posting this blog I got an email from an editor at the website Search Engine Watch. www. posted a blog of their own explaining how the rogue links occurred. The article is correct is stating that the articles caused spikes in traffic, those spikes have long since passed though. Search Engine Watch contacted a senior product manager at Bing, who indicated it was a known problem. Bing provides search results for Yahoo. Read the whole article at:


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