A Natural Disposition for Search

My backyard is a swamp. All right, it’s more like a marsh. Either way, my backyard is part of a nature conservancy that preserves a piece of the wetlands that make up so much of the landscape in the area. It’s a fabulous place to be if you don’t mind the taste of deet in your mouth. The mosquitoes tend to swarm around warm tissue at sunrise and sunset. A great day consists of a good breeze to keep the bugs at bay.

In the morning, the ducks splash into the pond and the nesting geese waddle about the short grass, honking and head-bobbing to their goslings. It’s common to see a solo great blue heron rivaling a fisherman or two for an early morning feast of small mouth bass. As the day fades, the real fireworks begin. That’s when the fireflies light up the long grass with a graceful dance as they signal codes in a Morse-like fashion that only other fireflies can understand.

The beauty of the area is that you can see, taste, and smell the harmonic resonance of nature in its purest form. It’s a well-orchestrated performance in motion 24/7. The seasons signal some inhabitants to arrive, others to depart, and still others to burrow or stock up on nuts. My little backyard swamp is an exceedingly complex ecosystem that supports a delicate cycle of nature in motion.

Why the foray into naturalism when I’m supposed to be talking about natural search?

Because at the end of the day, the two constructs are not entirely dissimilar. Natural search, after all, is part of the Web’s nature. A natural search program will be as barren as a desert if goods or services would-be visitors seek can’t be found. A successful natural search strategy needs to be more like a marshland — an essential part of sustaining online entities with a constant flow of nutrients in the form of search-referred visitors.

If you study something long enough, you’ll observe the nature of being and grow your understanding of its essence, be it a marsh or a search engine. Just as the wind ripples through the long grass and makes the cattails bow to its energy in the marsh, so too do algorithms waft through online documents assessing the strength of the root.

With rich media in plan, dynamic Web site constructs in motion, and competing forces all around, putting together a natural search strategy has many complex components. Just as a wetland must work in harmony with the environment to produce desired results, so too must an online organization provide resources for understanding natural search, lest the spiders get bogged down by the muck.

As the stream flows through the marsh, depositing rich nutrients in the damp soil, so too the clickstreams of visitors passing through search referrals to a Web site feed that Web site. The rich sites are further enriched by proximity to the thematic channel like the swamp grass and cattails that grow stronger and taller near the thick shore of the creek. But that doesn’t mean that peace and serenity are always part of the picture.

Powerful thunderstorms and wind can test the structure of nearly any entity. Last fall, there were whitecaps on the marsh after 10 solid days of rain. Storms are disruptive forces essential to maintaining the marsh’s cyclic balance. They’re very similar to aggressive crawls through a Web site or traffic fits and bursts sent from social media venues. Eventually indexation updates settle, new visitors come and go, and a vast flux in the number of inbound links are accounted for by revealing new data in the calm after the storm.

Yet those who rage against the natural forces of the stormy algorithmic updates find their results diminished and their search referrals as tattered as a clump of Queen Anne’s lace after a hail squall. The search engines perform much like Mother Nature, and we all know what happens to those who attempt to fool her. The virtual fools are eventually revealed over time, too.

A search engine strategy is nearly as complex as the wetland’s delicate ecosystem. Before you can build a strategy, you must observe how your Web site functions in its online environment. Just like a nature conservancy must be set aside to sustain itself, so too must a successful search engine strategy be built upon natural resources within the organization.

Successful search engine strategies are built by weaving together many different resources, including programming time from IT staff, additional efforts from Web developers, ongoing analysis of Web metrics and harvested data, and online marketing initiatives and PR.

Just as my local nature conservancy board oversees the general health of the wetland, so too must an online organization take the long view on planning, building, and sustaining a natural search strategy. Having a natural disposition for search is all about creating an environment from which you can sustain your Web-land like a wetland.

Meet P.J. at SES San Jose, August 18-22 at San Jose Convention Center.

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