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Chapter 9: Search
Search Engine Promotion
Site owners always want to be number one in search engines. Consider if you are a small travel agent. You probably would love it if people could go to a search engine, type travel, and have a link to your site show up as the first one. You'd get a large number of visits for sure. Unfortunately, there are probably a lot of other people who would like to be number one, and being ranked 4,036th isn't going be worth much. In fact, if you are outside the first 20 sites or so returned, you probably aren't going to get many clicks at all. Because of this, page designers are always trying to determine how search engines categorize pages and then building their page with keywords in such a way to get a high ranking. In some ways, this idea is similar to how people name their company something like AAATravel in order to get listed first in the phone book. Unfortunately, consider how many travel agents in the world want their site to be in the top ten in search engines and you'll see a potential problem. The Web is not as geographically specific as the phone book. Imagine that there is only a single phone book for the United States. There would probably be dozen of pages filled with companies, all starting with AAA. The Web already has this problem, and that's one of the reasons you get so many results when you run a query for a competitive industry like discount travel.

The war to be first in the search engine has an obvious result—the rise of "pay for position." Consider that the tricks to be at the top of the search engine list spread rapidly. For common search phrases, it is nearly impossible to stay at the top of the list for long since other sites use the same search engine promotion techniques. Already search engines such as Overture ( are opting to push people to the top of the list that are willing to pay for position. Priority placement is also being made for banner ads triggered to correspond to particular search phrases. Just as with the phone book, naming your company AAATravel might put you at the top of the line listings, but readers may opt instead to look at the large display ads. Search engines will eventually adopt the same model. Further, as end users become more sophisticated, they will begin to rely more on directory listings for generic topics and use search engines only for very specific or complex lookups. The eventual outcome of the search engine war will almost certainly be a return to traditional models of information retrieval methods used in other advertising forms where you pay for audience relevancy and position. For now, designers should consider not taking advantage of search engine positioning methods, regardless of their long-term viability.

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