There’s no question that search engines have made the process of gaining knowledge, and researching products and services, extremely easy — often nearly effortless. The search bots do the work for us, helping us find the answers we’re seeking in the blink of an eye.
So what’s not to love about search?
The thing about search engines is that the algorithms “reward” the purported wisdom of crowds – particularly since there’s more social interaction on websites than ever these days. It’s one thing for developers to optimize their websites for search – but there’s also the behaviors of those doing the searching and interacting with those same websites and pages.
Whether it’s tracking how much time visitors spend on a page as a proxy for relevance, or how visitors may interact with a page by rating products or services, the bots are continually refining the search results they serve up in an effort to deliver the highest degree of “relevance” to the greatest number of people.
But therein lies the rub. Popularity and algorithms drive search rankings. If people confine viewing of search results to just the first page – which is what so many viewers do — it limits their exposure to what might actually be more valuable information.
Over time, viewers have been “trained” to not to look beyond the first page of online results – and often not beyond the top five entries. That’s very convenient and time-efficient, but it means that better information, which is sometimes going to be found in the middle of search results rather than at the top, is completely missed.
As we rely more on ever-improving software, it’s tempting to assume that the search algorithms are going to be more and more airtight – and hence more effective than human-powered expertise.
But that isn’t the case – at least not yet. And a lot of things can slip through the gap that exists between the perception and the reality.