Bing – Microsoft’s “Decision Engine”

June 15th, 2009 Ethan Stemm

Last month Beth posted a blog discussing the new search tool named Wolfram Alpha.  While the book is still out on this new search technology, an old player in a new guise has come upon the scene and likes to be called Bing.

Bing is Microsoft’s new search tool (replacing Live Search), and in an attempt to distinguish itself from Google and Yahoo, it is being touted not as a new Search Engine but rather a Decision Engine. What exactly is a decision engine? I’m not sure, but I found some clues in this article. Apparently, this Decision Engine is going to provide three main elements:

  • Quality search results
  • Organized search experiences
  • Simplified tasks and insight

Keeping these newly discovered points in mind, I took another look at Bing and came to this conclusion:

Bing operates just like any other search engine but with a nice photo in the background.

I suppose the real test of a search engine (or decision engine) would take place late Friday afternoon just moments before the end of the day when we suddenly remember needing to find the address of where we are meeting our significant other(s) after work. We begin searching for this information attempting to not be distracted about missing the bus but still remembering to turn on the office alarm while trying to remember our banking password so we can check if we even have the dough to go out for dinner. In this all-too-real scenario, the search engine is an integral part of the process and if it works correctly, we’ll hardly even notice it. But if it fails, and we end up across town at the wrong restaurant with no money, we’ll notice and remember which search tool to blame.

Since I am not going to complete the test outlined above (I don’t ride the bus), please accept the following observations:

  • Bing has a good a look to it and seems to provide good results.
  • Once past the paid rankings, Google usually leads us to where we want to go.
  • Yahoo is that old “portal” friend providing news and email with its search returns.

The truth of search on the internet is that the technology has not really changed much over the past decade. Yes there have been improvements with the control of spam, search results do provide more localized information and everything is faster, but can we say a current search return is far superior to those we got years ago? I’m not sure we can, and so I say it is time for search to improve in a big way. Perhaps the increasing reliance upon search returns acquired from Twitter, Facebook or a blog will result in some new search paradigms. Maybe a new technology is being developed right now and within a year’s time we’ll be more satisfied with our search returns. Or maybe we have reached the apex of search and right now is as good as it gets. In any case, give Bing a look and let us know what you think.

Posted in Web Technology | 5 Comments »

The Rise of Local Search

January 28th, 2009 Ethan Stemm

A recently completed research study by WebVisible and Nielsen’s revealed some important statistics concerning the use of the Internet for local search.

  • 63% of consumers use the Internet first when looking for local products.
  • 82% use search engines to to find local websites.
  • Consumers currently use search engines 72% more than they did two years ago.

What does this mean for you? It means that while you may cater to clients and customers around the globe, you should make sure not to miss the folks in your own backyard.

Here are some things you can do to bolster your ranking for local search returns:

  • Make sure that the “<title>” tag includes the city name of where your business is based.
  • Include the city name in the “description” meta tag.
  • Include the city name in the “keywords” meta tag.
  • Include the city name as much possible in the content of your pages. Search Engines like keyword density (as long as it’s not obviously overkill).
  • Take the time to confirm that your business is listed in the yellow pages and other similar directories with the complete address (including city) of your business. This is important, because Google – for example – uses your official address when compiling its “local business results” which appear at the top of a search results page just below any sponsored links.
  • Appeal to Search Engines by keeping your site clean and easy to use.

Here are some simple website to-dos that make your business more accessible to local visitors.

  • Make sure your site provides clear directions to your place of business.
  • Provide an easy-to-find and easy-to-use map.
  • Don’t have your contact info buried within your site.

Additionally, you may want to consider taking steps to improve your presence locally:

  • Join local business organizations, and ask them to include you in their print materials and link to your website from their website.
  • Donate to local charities, and ask if they can acknowledge your donation in their print materials and on their website.
  • Sponsor local events, and be sure to have the event organizers include your website address in all promotional materials.
  • Then promote your local involvement on your website – tell people about the charities you support, the events you sponsor, the organizations that you’re a member of, etc.

Posted in Web Design, Web Technology | No Comments »

Google’s Personalized Search: A New Paradigm?

November 19th, 2008 Ethan Stemm

Search Engine Optimization, better known as SEO, is an ever-present focus for Insight Designs as we work to improve the rankings of sites on numerous Search Engines. More of an art than a science, SEO today depends upon such things as strategically devised meta tags and the nebulous concept of link popularity. Search for “SEO” on the internet, and you will likely be exposed to a very lengthy and dense list of companies promising to improve your rankings. Sometimes enacted SEO does change the rankings of a site, and sometimes the rankings change for no apparent reason. SEO is a tough racket but an important one — and one that is about to change.

Google, the leading search engine, recently received a patent for personalizing search returns based upon the language of the user. This means that a search in Spanish will return sites that are also in Spanish. This technology will soon expand so that search results will be personalized based upon the user’s location, recent use of Google, and search history. Search returns might also be based upon factors such as whether the user is doing research or shopping. The intent of the Google user will matter as much as the SEO of the sites. This will fundamentally change what has been the focus of SEO. No longer will sites be ranked according to keywords or links. In the future, a search will return sites according to the user’s needs.

Whether Google’s shift to personalized search results translates into a new search paradigm remains to be seen. Regardless, we at Insight Designs will continue to pay attention to these changes and keep you aware of new SEO strategies.

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Google’s Web Browser: Chrome – not quite there yet

October 24th, 2008 Ethan Stemm

Back on September 2nd, Google released the web browser called Chrome. Touted as a “modern platform for web pages and applications,” Chrome was quickly downloaded and put to use by webmasters and users eager to test this new browser. The initial usage numbers indicated that Chrome was well on its way to becoming a hit and Insight Designs began to consider what this could mean for current and future web development.

Now, seven weeks later, the early exuberance for Chrome has waned and has been replaced by a more realistic view of this new browser. While Google’s Chrome does provide an interesting start to the next evolution of the web browser, Chrome’s large number of bugs, frequent crashes and a lack of differentiation as compared to the more popular browsers has resulted in a decline in usage numbers and return by users to IE7 and Firefox. Google has since cut back on the marketing of Chrome and is now focusing on improvements.

What can we learn from Chrome’s story?

  1. Beware the hype. Chrome was released with great fanfare and promise but quickly failed to achieve expectations. It is always a good idea to use the resources of the Internet and find independent comments and test results for any new technology.
  2. Change takes time and while the internet may speed up the developmental cycle of a new technology, we should practice patience and make sure it works before integrating into our processes.
  3. Any new browser will be compared to the current browsers and since people are more comfortable using what they know, the new browser will need to offer something new to appeal to the user. This is a good rule to apply to any new web technology.
  4. Google is expanding and looking to move beyond being just a way to search the web.

A web browser is a vital component to how many of us access and use the web. In order to ensure all users can view a webpage as it was intended, Insight Designs will test a site on multiple browsers including IE6, IE7, Firefox 3 and AOL 9 on PCs, and Firefox 2, AOL 10 and Safari 3 on Macs. We haven’t added Chrome to the list — yet.

Posted in Web Design, Web Technology | 1 Comment »

Meeting Behavior

September 19th, 2008 Ethan Stemm

During a recent Insight Designs meeting, I noticed that the momentum of our discussions was often plagued by interruptions, people looking at cell phones and an unintentional lack of respect for the person speaking. This led me to believe that this is a good time for a brief meeting etiquette refresher.

In today’s technology dominated business environment, human interaction can sometimes suffer as our communication relies more and more on emails, instant messaging, cell phones, etc. Unfortunately this digital communication can sometimes result in poor behavior during meetings. With this mind, it may be a good time for us to take a moment and look at seven things we can all do to improve our meeting etiquette.

  1. Be on time, or — even better — arrive early. When you aren’t there, everyone wonders where you are and when you come late, everyone wonders why you are late.
  2. Have a good attitude. Come to the meeting with the understanding you are coming to a meeting that will provide information for your benefit.
  3. Leave your electronic devices at your desk. If you find that you have accidentally brought one with you to the meeting, turn it off. We can all go an hour without contact with the outside world.
  4. Respect the speaker. Remember that the person leading the meeting is offering his or her time and energy. So don’t look at your watch, don’t sigh, don’t yawn (or at least hide it), and don’t whisper to the person next to you.
  5. If you have a question or comment, don’t interrupt. Try the old-school method of raising your hand and allowing the speaker to come to a point where they can take your question.
  6. Stay focused on the subject/task at hand. Limit your comments to the topic of the meeting.
  7. Listen and pause before you react to a comment. A meeting is not a competition or a debate, it’s a chance to learn and participate.

All too often, a meeting is seen as an intrusion into the workday as opposed to being viewed as an opportunity for everyone in the company to learn and improve. Start by following the seven steps above, and perhaps the perception of meetings in your organization can change for the better.

Posted in Miscellaneous | No Comments »

Getting Rid of Spam Headaches

August 21st, 2008 Ethan Stemm

How many times do we come to work, open our email and find our inbox is full of messages promising us free prescription drugs or a super cheap, super wonderful vacation to Miami?

As you know, this is spam, and it has become more than just an annoyance. It has become an increasingly costly business expense. According to Nucleus Research (Spam: The Repeat Offender, April 2007) spam increased by 57% in 2007. Email users at work receive on average 21 spam emails per day and looking at these emails and dealing with these emails uses 4.5 minutes a week. That doesn’t seem so bad until all this time is added up, and we find that U.S. businesses are losing $70 billion a year due to lost productivity. (Also troubling is that most viruses are introduced to a computer via spam email, but we’ll talk about this in a future blog.)

Spam is a problem but there are things one can do to lessen its impact.

  1. Do not use your email address when posting on message boards, newsgroups or other types of public forum. Spammers use programs called “bots” to “mine” or find and gather email addresses from public sites.
  2. Don’t use your work email when making an online purchase or filling out any other online forms.
  3. Disguise your email on your website. Try using “user at companydotorg” instead of “user@company.org.” A spam bot looks for emails in the standard format and won’t be able to identify your email in disguise. (You can also ask your web agency to encrypt your email address on the page.)
  4. If you want to post comments or messages to a public site, consider using a dummy address.
  5. When you receive spam, delete it, don’t open it, don’t reply to it, and definitely don’t open any attachments or click on any links. And avoid using the “remove me” option if it is in the spam, because many spammers will use this response as a means to validate your address and send you even more spam.
  6. Go to SpamCop and report the spam. This is a free service, and it takes very little time to complete a report.
  7. Talk to your IT department and/or email provider about the email and spam filters that you are currently using and find out what other options might be available to you. If you’re not pleased with your current spam-filtering service, consider trying Message Labs; we at Insight have been using them for years, and we’re very happy with their service. One person in our office went from getting 500 plus spams a day to just 15 or 20 after switching to Message Labs.

You may remember when it was next to impossible to get through dinner without the phone ringing and some telemarketer was asking for this and offering that, but now with things like the no-call list and caller ID, these calls have all but disappeared. Can we hope for the same when it comes to spam? We can. It will take time and effort, but the savings will be worth it.

Posted in Web Technology | 1 Comment »

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