Free Search Tools Underscore Understanding Gap

A relative once told me that his name showed on a Google search engine result page (SERP) whenever he looked at my name.  He was simply typing my name in to the query box rather than using quotes around my name so if my first name appeared anywhere on a list that also had his name, the search displayed a non-relevant result.

This is a key issue, one I always share with my online marketing brothers and sisters.   An empty text box next to a button invited input.  Surely this massive computer thing, this Internet, could figure out that a first and last name meant he was looking for the person.  Here is the key:  he had no interest in learning the best way to get relevant results.

He entered data in a search box and wanted the computer to know what he typed.   I often hear the same things from clients and today witnessed the behavior at an online community to which I belong.  The community is international and consumer, not business, focused.  One of the members shared a link to a well known site listing all types of SEO tools.  Some are free, others are trials and some are quite expensive.

The community members eagerly started comparing notes about the free tools and embarked on a mission of comparing perceived facts.  These very same tools trip up professionals who aren’t closely watching the results, are often inaccurate and easy to misinterpret.

The final incident came when someone in the next office suite told me in the hallway that he heard on the radio that General Motors honcho Rick Wagoner earned $100 million last year.  He verified that “fact” on the Internet.  For the record, Wagoner earned about $1.5 million in salary in 2007 and an additional $12 million or so in other compensation.  And while 14 million dollars is a lot of money, anyone with that much money will tell you the amount is nowhere close to $100 million.

Examples of this type of information misuse abound around the web.  Medical information sites can be the bane of a physician’s day, even if the site is a trusted authority such as The Mayo Clinic.  Lawyers have the same issues, as do car mechanics, plumbers, chefs and other professionals who use information in their practice.  There is no need to crusade about their use, but remember when someone starts talking in a somewhat authoritative tone with you that there may be a bad search engine result or web site that publishes facts without fact checkers.

The understanding gap continues to grow.  Help your clients and customers gently get to the actual answers and try not to feed into the information frenzy.  And now I’ll need to stop because my medical research tells me that my congestion, backache and fatigue are signs of an exotic disease I picked up traveling through rural Europe as a young man.  Or a cold, but I’m betting on the exotic every time.

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