Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Strategy #2: Assess the whole SERP to see if your question makes sense

An important strategy is to first ask yourself this basic question:  "Do I really understand the question?"  

It turns out that a huge percentage of all the search mistakes I see are because the searcher hasn't really thought about their question very carefully. 

 Sometimes it's just because they haven't thought through the details of what they're asking, but more importantly, searchers often miss the most important features of their search question because they're not paying attention to what the Search Engine Result Page (SERP) is telling them. 

Example:  A student asked me in a class the other day, "When did the Air Force Base in Sacramento open?"  

The obvious query might be [ Sacramento Air Force Base open ]... but that's assuming a bit too much.  As you can see, the first result on the SERP looks like it's got the answer there.  Game over, right? 


The better strategy is to search a bit more broadly at first and discover if your question makes sense.  It's often true that there's more to know about a topic than is obvious at first blush. 

If instead the searcher would have done a slightly broader search such as [Sacramento Air Force base], then they would have seen the following SERP.     

Note what I've highlighted here.  As it turns out, there isn't just ONE Air Force base in the Sacramento area, there are several.  

I've put ovals around McClellan, Mather, and Beale, all bases that can be plausibly considered to be in the Sacramento metro area.  

An experienced searcher knows that reading the whole SERP is a great way to get an overview on the topic at hand.  

When I ask this question in my classes, the most common mistakes I see are due to:

    (1) doing a query that implies the answer (e.g., [Sacramento Air Force base open])

    (2) reading only the first result and not learning anything from the rest of the SERP.  

One of the great properties of a search engine is that automatically creates a kind of overview on a topic.  Use that overview to your advantage.  Does the framing of your question really make sense?  

In this case, the student's assumption was that there was one-and-only-one Air Force Base in the area.  That wasn't true.  

As an extra hint, consider reading through the related searches list that appears at the bottom of the SERP.   Note that there's another Air Force Base (Travis) that people who are interested in Sacramento area bases have been looking for.    Travis turns out to be about 40 miles southwest of downtown Sacramento... so it might also be a local AFB. 

Keep looking at the WHOLE SERP!  

Search on! 

No comments:

Post a Comment