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Wednesday, July 12, 2006
By Shally Steckerl
The Holy grail. Perhaps the â€œholy grailâ€ in my line of work is the disambiguation of search results, or at least that is a worthy goal I have been approaching with forced baby steps due to lack of innovation in our space. Today, I am very excited to be able to leap two steps at once, something very rare in this field which gives the appearance of constant change while hides the deep dark secret that is hasnâ€™t really improved much since the advent of Magellan and AltaVista.
So far I have only been able to explore the inner workings of search engine indexes by proxy. That is to say I have to devise theories in a partial vacuum and run painstaking experiments to test them from the outside looking in, via trial and error, in order to discover what is really going on inside the box. You see, search engines cater to their ideal customer, mom and grandpa looking for recipes online using one or two key words at a time, poking around and clicking on ads. Thatâ€™s what pays their bills. Search engines are all about advertising but seekers are all about revealing information. Those of us who stretch the limits of the crawlers and multiplexers that run your favorite one-stop-search-shop are not invited to look inside the magic box… until now.
Designed to aid the SEO enthusiast in their efforts to better attract mom and grandpa, MSN AdCenter Labs (open since early this year) introduced Keyword Mutation Detection and Keyword Group Detection. Though SEOâ€™s goal is to improve the ranking of their commercial pages, thus effectively being the diametrical opposite of what us seekers do (we need to find non-commercial information about potential leads), these SEO tools give me direct insight to what users are doing and how search engines are optimizing their index.
There has been quite a bit of discourse among seekers with regard to finding synonyms or â€œsimilar termsâ€ and there are countless websites where we go to expand our search key words. Googleâ€™s use of the tilda (~) has also been very helpful in that goal. However, these two new tools offer an abundance of power, bringing use closer to that â€œholy grailâ€ of disambiguation. Think of something as simple as the word resume which could be used in the context of â€œresuming an activityâ€ just as easily as it is used in the traditional â€œwork experience summaryâ€ fashion. Like resume, many other words have multiple interpretations and common uses.
Keyword Mutation Detection
With this I can now look up my search terms and see what other variants (mutations) of that word are used. Not only does this help me by expanding my search criteria to include frequent misspellings, it also gives me a better understanding about the general ecosystem where that keyword resides. Search for Microsoft and you will find 17 other spellings. Think of how many pages of results you can add to your current search if you looked for all the mutations of your favorite key words, not just the correct spelling?
Keyword Group Detection
With this tool I can identify a plethora of synonyms and similar words, but unlike a Thesaurus or Encyclopedia, these words are real-time, used by actual searches from real users. Try looking up something as simple as Curriculum Vitae and see a whole world of other keywords you may use to identify career-related information. Now try it with some of the keywords in your particular industry!