Do Search Engines Scare You?

What do the words "Search Engine" make you think of? I get immediate mind-pictures which vary but all have similar themes. Sometimes I see one of those tiny submarines which are used to explore the deepest parts of the ocean bed. I have this picture in my mind of the tiny submarine underwater in complete darkness apart from the beam of its searchlight which is probing the gloom. Other times I see a horse-drawn carriage driving through dense fog with only its weak lamp relieving the darkness. This scene is from a movie where the police are racing through London in search of Jack The Ripper. The final picture is of a line of policemen in old-fashioned uniforms advancing across a moor in darkness through rising mist with only their flashlight-beams to light their way.

It can get a bit scary inside my mind at times. If these were dreams rather than passing thoughts, they would probably be analysed as meaning an obsession with darkness and getting lost. Maybe the lights penetrating the darkness symbolise a fear of ignorance (or maybe a fear of getting found out). The obvious link is that these pictures all relate to a search of one kind or another. The first one might represent a search for knowledge, the second one is obviously the search for a criminal and the final one a search for clues at the scene of a crime.

Why would the words "search engine" conjure up these dark visions? If you look at the words we associate with search engines, I think the connection will be clear. We talk about "submitting" our websites to search engines. We don't "send" our websites or "apply" to search engines or "register" our websites with search engines. We are submissive and the search engines dominate us.

We adopt this submissive posture and the search engines send their robots to "crawl" over our websites. Doesn't sound very pleasant does it? The future of your website is entirely in the power of these monsters. You have spent time and perhaps some cash getting your website ready for the visit. Your website, the shop window to your home business, has been tweaked and "search engine optimised", now you can do nothing except hope that your efforts will be rewarded with approval by these invisible inspectors.

Web site owners act as if the search engines are neighbourhood dignitaries: "We must tidy up, the search engines are coming to visit". An anxious time follows while your website, brushed, polished and optimised to the best of your ability, waits to greet these visitors. The most respected visitor is Googlebot. He causes most anxiety and is renowned for being unpredictable. Webmasters try to analyse the "Googledance" in the hope of making Googlebot's visit enjoyable. If we can get the mighty Googlebot to dance instead of merely crawling, he might give us a good report, but Googlebot can't seem to decide what algorithm he prefers. How are you supposed to get his feet tapping? Unfortunately, the search engines are not the most communicative visitors and you only realise they have carried out their examination when something (either good or bad) happens to your protégé's page rank.

The search engines are not like your school teacher who gives you a class test, they are more like the university Board Of Examiners: when you have passed or failed their test, you will never get to know which questions you got right or where your weakness lies. Further improvement will have to be a matter of guesswork but suppose your guess is wrong? You might destroy the very things which met with the search engines' approval. Then you hear that the search engines don't agree amongst themselves, so what pleases some of them might lose you points with others. Which ones should you try hardest to impress? Should you turn your website into some sort of private Googledancer and risk offending the rest of the robots? Would it be better to try to please one or two of the larger search engines or a big bunch of the lesser ones? Finally you hear a rumour that the search engines are changing their secret rules anyway but nobody knows what the changes will entail. You despair of ever satisfying the masters of your fate, you feel as if you are stumbling around in the dark. Panic takes you over.

Should you be afraid of search engines?

Anybody in his right mind should be afraid, very afraid.

This is one of a series of articles published by the author, Elaine Currie, BA(Hons) at

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