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Andrew Walmsley on digital: Social nuances hold sway in search
[August 08, 2007]

Andrew Walmsley on digital: Social nuances hold sway in search

(Marketing Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) In the 1800s, the Hooligan family established a reputation for themselves in Ireland that caused their name to fall in to the language In later years, perhaps understandably, the family changed its name, adopting Houlihan to distance itself from its forebears' reputation.

The Hooligans knew the value of a name. They knew it could create personality for a person one has yet to meet. Think Rockefeller, Iscariot, Hitler, Hilton - they all create associations you just can't help but recognise. And just as this works for names, we're seeing a similar phenomenon online today, a sociological effect replicated by search-engine algorithms and the optimisation of websites.

Each site has a name (its domain), and to a search engine this represents its family and background. More established sites tend to have more visibility in natural search results, resembling a family with deep historic roots. Families like this tend to have built generations of wealth, be it in property, land, financial assets or treasures from centuries ago; and this is how search engines value sites.

If a site has been running with a steady flow of good insightful content for many years, it will have built up a good presence on search engines. Stronger sites end up linking to this content as a result, just like families tend to associate with others in their social class and with similar interests and background.

In search-engine results, we are presented with listings for hundreds of sites that we might never have visited. It is a chance for the websites to present themselves and see if we want to associate with them.

Many portals will have optimised title tags and descriptions in their listings, going beyond a simple brand listing and providing some further background information to help users choose. Users make instant judgements, using subtle cues in the search-listing copy to determine which sites they want to spend time with, just as they make snap decisions about people based on first impressions. This is a game of nuance and delicacy, where getting the right level of optimisation is crucial, and a title that screams keywords all over it may not appear the sanest of characters to deal with.

In life, some families migrate, split, or start anew, and it is usually these that have a tougher time making ends meet. Similarly, a new website or domain struggles initially to rank well in natural-search results, usually taking time to build a strong foothold.

As networking families and business people have known for years, building acquaintances and relationships can drive opportunity your way. The power of that network is determined by more than just the sheer number of people in it. Also taken into account is the quality of those people, the relevance of their interests and the closeness of their relationship to you.

In exactly the same way, search engines evaluate the quality and relevance of these relationships, putting more value on those that are closer to a website's interests and using these factors to influence its ranking.

So, don't hang out with the wrong crowd. Don't live in bad areas, or associate with transients or those whose interests don't coincide with yours. Don't move house too frequently. Establish yourself in your neighbourhood and put down roots. Contribute to your community, and have interesting things to say.

Just as there are tips for social climbing, there are techniques for optimising your website. And while people today might draw the line at taking elocution lessons, their online equivalents are critical to business success, making a Rockefeller out of any Hooligan.


- The origins of the term 'hooligan' are uncertain. Some believe it is derived from Patrick Hooligan, an Irishman who killed a London policeman in the 1890s; others that it came from an Islington street gang called Hooley, which is an Irish word for a lively party.

- Hooliganism is often linked by the media to English football fans, and there are 21 recognised 'hooligan firms' in the country. They include Derby County's Lunatic Fringe, Hull City's Psychos and Burnley's Suicide Squad.

- Football firms are established in countries as far afield as Israel, home to Beitar Jerusalem's La Familia, and Sweden, where AIK's innocent-sounding Baby Boys operate.

- Recent years have seen the rise of hoodies - young men who intimidate their community. Last year, Conservative leader David Cameron was pilloried by Labour for urging voters to 'hug a hoodie'.

Copyright 2007 Haymarket Business Publications Ltd, Source: The Financial Times Limited

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