Declaring that Internet search is currently broken, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales is trying to fix it. And he wants your help.
After several months of development and acquisitions to assemble the infrastructure needed to build a viable search engine, Wikia Search service goes live today. Wikia Search is a product of Wikia Inc., a for-profit company wholly separate from the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that was founded in 2004 and oversees Wikipedia.
Following a brief period of private alpha testing, today’s unveiling is billed as a “public alpha release.” Wales has freely admitted that today’s launch is something of a test drive, and that the application will continue to see substantial modifications and updates.
With the community-driven, open-source search engine, Wales is hoping to transform Internet search, which he describes as currently dominated by a few large companies operating under a cloak of secrecy with virtually no accountability for how results are served up or pages are ranked.
“The philosophical background here is that I’m a very big advocate of openness and transparency,” Wales told InternetNews.com. The best parts of the Web are largely absent from the proprietary protocols of the major search engines, he said.
“My view here is that there’s an opportunity to change that.”
Starting from www.wikia.com, users can navigate to an unadorned search page that Wales compared to Google’s for its deceptive spareness — like Google, the Wikia Search launch page is just the tip of the iceberg.
Wales said that Wikia Search is both a social network and a search engine. On the site, users register, create profiles and are able to perform all the typical functions of a social networking site – messaging friends, uploading photos, etc.
The search engine serves up results as a series of links ranked in order of relevance, just as Google and Yahoo do (enter a query; receive a list of results), but the similarities end there.
Applying the collaborative editing approach that is the essence of a wiki, registered users can contribute to a mini-article that appears at the top of the results page, Wales said.
Users can click on the links and rank the relevance of the result to the search term on a scale of one to five; their evaluations are then fed back into the algorithm to improve the quality of information delivered.
Building a search engine from the ground up, with results delivered and refined the using the same approach that made Wikipedia the Web’s favorite general reference site, is not going to be an overnight process, Wales admitted. Just looking at the near future, “we’d be ecstatic if we grabbed 5 percent of the market,” Wales said.
The push toward community-driven search began in earnest in July, when Wikia announced the acquisition of Grub, the open source search project that harnesses the distributed processing power of individuals’ computers to crawl the Web.
The Grub Web crawler is just one of many technologies cobbled together to power Wikia Search, Wales said. On the back end, Apache efforts Lucene and Nutch shoulder the brunt of the search and indexing responsibilities. The front end, which handles the user interactions, such as the comments and rankings, is written in Java.
Wales said that Wikia Inc. is still exploring monetization methods for the search engine, but that, in a general sense, it would employ some form of an advertising model. No commercial partners have been announced.
Delivering search results through open source algorithms that evolve through community rankings begs the same question of user abuse that has dogged Wikipedia from time to time.
Search engine optimization is a microindustry in its own right these days. Asked about the concern that by turning the algorithms and rankings over to the community, Wikia Search could be a ripe target for gaming the search engine to artificially boost site rankings, Wales demurred.
“My view is that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he said. “Talk with security experts and they will tell you that security through obscurity is a bad idea,” adding that the policing of Wikia Search will work in a very similar manner as it does on Wikipedia.
“We have a community that is in charge of the editorial content” that will be able to identify and block the bad apples who aren’t playing by the rules. Ultimately, SEO will be less of an issue for Wikia Search than it is currently with Google, Yahoo and the other major search engines, Wales said.
“I feel that this is going to be one of our strengths.”
Wales said he’s taking an organic approach to the development of the editorial community and that his own involvement will be extensive.
He wasn’t didn’t specifically answer whether there’ll be censorship or banning of rogue community members for trying to game the system?
“I have a general philosophy that’s served me very well: Avoid excessive a priori thinking – wait and see … we’ll see how it unfolds.”
For some reason, some clients tend to look at Organic SEO like a vending machine. Almost as if they want to put their money in a slot and instantly want the prize. Organic SEO depends on the climate of the competition, the industry and variables such as the content on your pages, if your site is new, if your website has links or if it is virtually unknown. The list of potential obstacles that an optimization specialist has to overcome oftentimes seems insurmountable in comparison to the expectations of a client.
In the event that time is not a luxury one can afford for long term results, there is pay per click marketing. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for solid organic placement, but before getting there, oftentimes an education and above all clarity needs to be established between the SEO company and the client before embarking on a voyage into the raging waters of the search engine marketing.
Patience may be a virtue, but in SEO it is the cornerstone to long lasting organic search results. If you have a newer website that barely ranks for your company name and you hire an SEO company with the expectation of taking over a 2 word phrase with 5,000,000 pages competing for that term, what likelihood do you have of achieving search engine domination (that lasts) within a month? 2 months?, 3 months?, bleak…you see the point. To acquire such (in the real world) and not just theoretically would mean that you would have had to start somewhere (with related keywords) to chip away at the tail or the term (sometimes for 3-6 months), before even considering attacking the head. Not to mention that your ranking potential is to a great extent based on your link popularity. Now those of you who are not familiar with link building, here is an analogy.
Say for example that you want to appear for a search term that sparsely appears for a fleeting moment on your website, you don’t really want to change your content and you want fast results (all SEO’s raise their hand if they have had to deal with clients like this) then I have news for you. Your better breaking it to them that they are better off sticking risk vs. reward, no guarantee, pay per click marketing. At least then they know what their getting, a shot at the top, with no safety net. One can easily burn through 2-3 times as much money using PPC than just observing a bit of patience to organically occupy a top 10 spot and have the users click happily ever after when they visit your site free of the toll of the PPC troll. But to expect this from Organic SEO right out of the box (from a newer site – less than a year old) is simply contrary to the principles (mainly the algorithms) that control organic rankings.
What is the solution?
So what can you do if you are interested in increasing your rankings without spending a fortune? Invest your time in (a) looking at the top tier websites that are returned for the search terms you are coveting and (b) be frank with yourself to determine what those websites have that yours does not. Do they have 1000 pages and you have 3, do they have 25,000 back links to their site and you have 28, trust me details like this matter. What can you emulate and what can you do today to make changes that can provide relevance for your website aside from wishful thinking…
All kidding aside, if you are considering what it would take to be on top, usually the first thing to consider is what you need to be doing differently that can aid the process that is already known for being conducive with top 10 rankings. Because frankly, if you were doing that already, your wouldn’t need SEO to begin with. So if you are afraid of change, or quite simply just don’t have the time to commit 3 hours a day to your site (minor tweaks, revisions, polishing the content, building links, socially bookmarking to promote, etc) then your better off hiring an SEO company who does know how, and that can avoid the pitfalls in the first place.
Start from the ground up, content is the key
Organic SEO is based on maximizing the content on your pages to achieve the right balance of word density (percentage of keywords to non keywords) as well as proper use of signal flares or signifying elements that say HEY OVER HERE, HERE I AM, when it comes to that term. Not that repetition for the sake of redundancy occurs (otherwise known as SPAM), but your message should be clear, themed and concise, while being informative, compelling and engaging to consume (otherwise known as sticky) to ensure sales and conversion.
If you are a bit on the shallow side on the links, you can sign up for the Yahoo Directory to get the ball rolling, it’s the best $299 one could spend on investing in their websites instant recognition based on the process of affiliation with one of the oldest directories online. One site which was less than a year old went from a page rank 0 to a page rank 4, just on the strength of Yahoo’s back link, so this is a start.
My suggestion is to build links for about 3-5 months gradually sprinkling the terms you want to rank for in the anchor text (the text in the link) that reference your site. The idea is to have a balance of broad search terms as well as a combination of exact match terms to dial in the net and funnel the potential searches that may have any number of keywords that pertain to your industry. In this way, your site can become a catch all for various top 10 searches and create inroads with search engines as an authority in your industry.
This is what link building is for, building authority, from there once your website is viewed in that capacity, you can work smarter not harder to rank for more competitive terms. This is not intended to be interpreted as a tutorial, but rather a needed statement to address all of the misconceptions about organic rankings.
Organic SEO can work fast, but it depends on variables and since no two sites are alike, what works for one, may not work for another. Competition and the industry have the greatest impact on this part of the equation. Real estate vs. ant farming, sure you could rank in the top 10 for the best ant farmer, but then again the daily search volume may be 3 people a day if that.
The point being, the market is based on supply and demand and as any commodity is in great demand, it is taxed accordingly. In this case, the search engines view this as a commitment of time and energy. Visibility and links are crucial, but finding the right combination of old and new links as well as being present in the headlines, social scenes and other known factors that can produce rankings are all investments of time. So the next time you wonder why SEO companies charge so much, this should provide some incite into the logic behind the equation. They are essentially micro-managing thousands of steps and protocols, analyzing the results and systematically applying fundamentals to give your website the proper balance so that it appeals to the hungry, yet picky spiders and bots, whose purpose it is to catalog and retrieve useful content.
If you don’t make the grade, you can always build a few more links, clean up your code, your content and your act and then wait for them to breeze through again and catch a glimpse of your wares. If they like what they see, you should be ranking in no time flat. But if the results you are seeking fall short of your expectations, then it is either you than must come to terms with what you want and where your at, so that you can make the needed adjustments to find a happy medium between on-page SEO, off-page link building until you achieve your goal.
“I would say that the most important policy regarding search optimization is never allowing your programmers to try any kind of SEO at all.”
A free tip for business owners, you need to be aware of what your internet staff are doing, because programmers are constantly learning new methods, new techniques and tips from each other and from the web. “They would not give a second thought to using this new but perhaps untested and dubious technique on your live website just to hone freshly acquired skills or to appear to be a bit more professional in their own minds.
Afterwards, if Google blacklists you, the only thing to do is to close your old domain down and start again, fresh.
My advice to company’s seeking an SEO Consultant
Check the SEO company you intend to use is listed on Organic Search (not PPC or Adwords) on Google for what they do, check out a few common keyword terms, if they cannot get there own site listed, how can they do yours?
Ask for references from clients they have done work for.
If your still unsure, leave them alone and find someone else.