May 2015

Web Searching

As of January 2015, Google had 88% of searchers using its search engine, with Yahoo! and Bing trailing at 4% and 4.5% respectively, according to With more and more users, particularly millennials, making searches from mobile phones, a greater percentage of market share is coming from phones and tablets. Google on average takes in over 5.5 billion search requests a day, from laptops and mobile devices alike. That’s a lot of searching. But given the expanse of the internet, how do most users navigate through the troves of information brought up by these search engines? From psychology to basic preferences and familiarity with the web, many factors shape the web searching experience. So if you’re curious as to why and how you might be searching the web, and how to perhaps make more efficient and relevant searches, read on.

Human Wayfinding: Getting right into the science of information searching, let’s take a look at something called “wayfinding”. Wayfinding happens when you travel, browse the web or Facebook stalk someone. You rely on local knowledge, things you know and that are in front of/around you, to get to where you need to go or get the information you want. You take steps to get from place to place in order to reach your final destination. For example, in Wikipedia, you can click on links to different articles. If you start on a page about fruit and want to get to pesticides, you might click on “agriculture” which takes you to “farming tools” and then finally “pesticides” (I just made this up, so if these articles don’t exist in that order, don’t blame me!). Based on research from Bob West at Stanford University, a person tasked with reaching a particular article when started on a particular page was able to get there with an average of 3.2 clicks, and a maximum of 9 clicks. Through some analysis, it was found that people use two techniques when searching: navigating to “hubs” and looking for similarity to the topic. Hubs of information are more general pages that may contain lots of information able for perusing – sort of like a search engine or a website that is about the topic you are searching for, with many pages on specific information. Once you navigate to a hub, then you look for familiar and similar information to what you want. A search engine may try and do this for you, but ultimately people have their own filter for looking at relevant websites. That’s more of a personally cultivated taste, so we’ll get into that in the next section. In the end though, people are pretty good about filtering and searching for information. They’re willing to click around a few times to get where they want to go, although less clicks are usually better to keep younger searchers’ attention spans.

Website Relevance and Credibility: Search engines show web page titles, the website name and a brief description of the page (if there is one). Using these three pieces of information, people go about a careful filtering process when deciding whether or not to click on a site. The familiarity of the page title being presented does a lot – if a web page title matches the user’s search query closely, they are more likely to click on it. Next, people scan the website title and description. If the website domain name is something relevant, people will continue to read the description of the website; otherwise, it’s pretty easy to dismiss a site that sounds irrelevant or spammy. Finally, when reading the description of the page, people again look for matching of their query to the information. The more overlap with the searched topic and more specific a page may be, the more likely people will click it.

Tips for Searching: Now that you know how people search, how can you search more effectively? One way is to limit the kind of information you get back after a search request. If you need academic material, try using Google Scholar. If you want to locate a particular nonprofit, look only for websites that end in .org, using advanced search features that all major search engines have.

If you have a very specific search term you want to match, put it in quotes in the search bar of your preferred browser, and you’ll get back results that only have the exact keywords you typed in. Exclude a word by putting a hyphen (-) in front of it, if you know that it may show up with your search terms. Don’t be afraid to click through a few websites to get information (who knows what you’ll find along the way!) but don’t click more than 5 times, otherwise the chances of you finding information that you want goes down dramatically. And if you really don’t like the results you’re getting, try a different search engine – they have different algorithms that provide different results!

Millennials, Websites, and SEO

There has been a lot of hype lately about how to market to Millennials, how to get them to buy your products, etc.

Let’s start with what a “Millennial” is. Millennials are loosely defined as those persons who have reached adulthood in the year 2000, commonly called “Generation Y”, or the “Net Generation”. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, according to the Internet “encyclopedia”, Wikipedia. With that definition, a Millennial covers an age span between 18 to 35 years of age.

Millennials, usually tagged with the misconception that they are “obsessed” with technology, i.e., “always have their noses in their iPhone”, are in fact more interested in doing things in the fastest and most efficient way using the latest available technology.

Next, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results (emphasis added) – often referred to as “natural,” “organic” or “earned” results.

Everyone knows what a website is but, again, according to Wiki, “A website, also written as web site, or simply site, is a set of related web pages typically served from a single “web domain”.” Think, Pinterest, or YouTube.

So, how do all of these tie together? Millennials use the latest technology available to search for information on the Internet with the fastest means possible. That information is found on websites. They don’t want to waste their time in searching. They would prefer getting the right results, right now, so they can get on with their lives doing what they intended to do with the information.

With all of the recent search engine algorithm changes, (over 120 since 2000), search engines try to determine what the intent of the searcher is, and then tries to provide information that is as close as possible to that perceived intent. That means if your website does not have the information that is pertinent, it won’t show up in Internet searches. Keywords are no longer the bait of searchers – it is relevant information on the pages they land on.

So, what applies to Millennials, also really applies to everyone. If you want to maximize your chances of a Millennial, a Baby Boomer, or anyone for that matter to visit your website and do that conversion,  you must make sure you have good quality content on each of your website pages.

So, what have you done to adapt to the latest Google algorithm changes?


Ride Sharing: Getting around in the Digital Age

In the past two years or so, the innovative minds of Silicon Valley have touched another aspect of our lives, and transformed how we use transportation. The premise behind ride sharing apps is simple: the company hires drivers that drive around wherever they happen to be (usually major cities), and wait for people to request them for rides. The drivers are usually well vetted, so you’re not going to get someone with a few DUIs driving you around. Fares are usually cheaper than taxis, and you ride in someone’s personal car (usually marked with a sticker in the window denoting which company the driver works for). No gross taxis or waiting for one on the side of the street; these drivers come to you, on demand. And, you can usually see how other customers have rated your driver. Drivers with a consistent poor enough rating will eventually be fired. On the reverse side, drivers also rate passengers, so that other drivers can know if you tend to be later or rude. They don’t have to pick you up if they don’t want to, which sometimes leads to the problem of not being able to get a driver within a reasonable amount of time. But from my personal experience, this has only happened once. The nice thing about ride sharing services is that there are several to choose from (Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are the most popular), so if you can’t get an Uber (which hasn’t happened to me yet), you can try another service. Not to mention by carpooling you limit your carbon footprint, so ride sharing definitely gets bonus points in my book for being a service that helps reduce environmental impact.

Since Uber internationalized its services in 2012, millions of people have signed up for the company’s service. So if this whole ride sharing thing seems a bit sketchy, it’s nice to know that a lot of other people are using it. Now if you’re getting into a car with a stranger, that can still seem a bit unsettling. It’s true that ride sharing companies have had their fair share of legal issues, leading them to be banned in certain countries or face certain legal restrictions. And the companies know that. For example, Uber is testing a “SOS” feature on its app in India, so that passengers can call police and send them their location, along with driver information. Lyft is already known for its intense driver screening policies. Sidecar has GPS in each car, and provides insurance for riders. From personal experience, I have to say my ride sharing experiences have been pretty positive, and especially convenient if you don’t have a car or take public transportation to get around. And I’ve heard stories of some drivers going above and beyond to help their passengers, everything from helping put groceries in the car to driving extra miles for free. So if you need a quick ride somewhere, take a look into riding sharing applications. So far, I have to say that the convenience and affordability of these services have kept me coming back. And as I still have a few more years in college without access to a car, I’ll definitely continue to use these handy companies.